There’s been tons of branding shifts, from Blizzard renaming its multiplayer game service Battle.net; Riot Games’ new title is a board game; and Ubisoft launching its very book publishing house to boost its cross-media brand power — all in this week’s TPOI!
Tag: games industry
This week’s TriplePoints of Interest features Twitch’s acquisition of Curse, Facebook and Unity are creating a gaming platform, Paragon’s open beta is playable on PS4 and PC, and Blizzard trolls “gg ez” trolls in Overwatch.
Oculus Rift has already won the hearts and minds of geeks everywhere, without a finished product on shelves. At trade shows like CES and E3, the chance to get even a brief demo of the virtual reality headset has spawned endless, snaking lines of near-Disneyland proportions. There’s no doubt that the Rift has the potential to change entertainment as we know it, but it’s a step in the wrong direction that will further divide gamers from the mainstream.
Ask any game developer on iOS and Android today about the challenges they face in succeeding (i.e. turning a profit, making a sustainable living), and chances are there will be expressions of frustration and negativity. Save for companies that have already established themselves in the mobile marketplace and can afford to build and sustain a customer base, an overwhelming majority will never see a penny of profit.
At the same time, the mobile game market is at a crossroads. On one hand, you have casual experiences being churned out that can be monetized through growth hacking, a.k.a. the ability to target, but and convert players into paying customers. On the other hand, unique game experiences with deep and engaging levels of gameplay that can appeal to true “gamers” are finding it incredibly challenging to succeed, experiences that might command an upfront payment for a quality experience, one that such gamers are willing to pay.
Yet, the touchscreen experience doesn’t match the deep level of gameplay that sufficiently satisfies the needs of the average gamer. A few hours of playing a serious shooter, and you’re left with finger burn and a crooked wrist. This is why I adamantly support Nintendo’s strategy to continue building out their own platform with dedicated portable consoles, but that’s best left said in another blog post that I previously wrote.
While these challenges will persist in the near future, there is a bright spot in the mobile industry, steadily growing to help push development of high quality, deep gaming experiences that consumers might be willing to pay for – Bluetooth game controllers. Yes, multiple companies exist that provide such solutions, such as Green Throttle, Nyko, MOGA and others, but the tipping point will come with native integration of controller support by Apple and Google.
We already know about Apple’s controller API released with iOS 7, one that any developer can integrate into their game to support any wireless Bluetooth game controller. Google can’t be far behind, and we can be confident that we’ll see the support in the next year, at the most.
Free-to-play games rule the roost, and likely will for some time to come, if not permanently. This has allowed companies with the most capital to execute “growth hacking” techniques weighed heavily on user acquisition to build and sustain a player base. This has unfortunately led to an incredibly difficult marketplace for less capable developers to navigate and get discovered, especially the indie tier where the best ideas are generated and the least analytical capabilities lie. And we certainly can’t count on a quality game to succeed based on a one-time payment model. Free-to-play becomes even more challenging for the serious gamers, an incredibly difficult balance to manage in avoidance of pay-to-win perceptions.
As for “quality” games following the paid download model, $1.99 is unfortunately the maximum a majority of smartphone gamers will pay, with $9.99 and $19.99 being special price points for console ports – generally not optimal experiences built from the ground up for the touchscreen.
With universal game controller support built into iOS and Android, we can count on gamers playing for longer periods of time. With such higher engagements, developers can build deeper experiences with flexible game mechanics and backstories that have gamers investing tens of hours of time. Such game experiences are why 35 million gamers around the globe own a 3DS, and games that sell for $40 each sell in the millions within several days of release. These are the games, like Grand Theft Auto V and Call of Duty, that smash entertainment sales records, surpassing movies and music. Many of these games just wouldn’t work on a free-to-play model.
We’ve witnessed a variety of companies enter the market to disrupt the console business, most of which have been categorized as “microconsoles”, dedicated set-top box hardware usually build on top of Linux/Android. Yet, I can’t help but think that the last thing developers need to worry about right now is another platform, particularly one with little install base to justify the additional resource investment.
Why the need for a microconsole, when we all already own one, sitting right in our pocket? The smartphone and tablet, both iOS and Android, will quickly displace the need for dedicated microconsoles that offer the same value. Connectivity to the TV an issue? Tap and stream, enabled by Apple TV and, soon, the likes of Chromecast, will eliminate this hurdle for mainstream consumers. Don’t worry about the gamers – they’re savvy enough to make it happen now, as long as they have a reason to.
To summarize why I’m optimistic about the smartphone and tablet gaming space for the future of gaming:
1.) Native integration of controllers accelerating developer adoption into games.
2.) Games built from the ground up with controller support can lean on deeper experiences that please core gamers.
3.) High quality game experiences that can be played for hours (and avoid finger burn) can command premium price points and not rely on free-to-play access and conversion.
4.) Smartphone and tablets significantly increasing in power and capabilities can offer an experience that pleases the core gamer.
5.) One-tap streaming from smartphones/tablets to TV will all but eliminate the need for dedicated consoles tethered to the TV.
6.) More freedom and flexibility for gamers – one game file and experience no matter where you are, whether played on the road or on your living room TV.
I truly believe that there’s still a bright future ahead for experiences that gamers can enjoy and would be willing to pay a premium price point for on mobile devices. The hurdles that face development and adoption of such titles is a technology challenge already being solved in the form of native controller support and mobile-to-TV streaming. This is an exciting opportunity for developers to harness and create rich game experiences that meets the behaviors and consumption habits of gamers both casual and core. For all the gamers out there, we get to enjoy great games using the hardware that we own coupled with an affordable controller, anytime, anywhere.
For those of you loyal readers who are less games-industry inclined, things got preeeetty exciting at the end of last week. Notable industry sour-puss Phil Fish, the creator of puzzle/platform game Fez, took a special kind of offense to some strong words from Marcus Beer, a journalist and commentator most known for his Annoyed Gamer segment on GameTrailers. Beer was upset that Fish and fellow indie designer Jonathan Blow had refused to comment when approached about Xbox One’s decision to allow for Indie publishing. Mean things were said, a Twitter war started, and at the end of the day Mr. Fish announced his retirement from game development, and the subsequent cancellation of his much anticipated game Fez 2.
It was a strange turn of events. Fish has long been an outspoken member of the gaming community, and has not been afraid of stepping on toes—he once declared that Japanese games, on the whole, “suck.” But despite his polarized opinions and regular flack he received for them, never before had he given an indication that he would quit the industry entirely. Journalists, commentators, and gamers are in a kind of stunned state, some siding with Fish against the very personal attacks leveled against him, others basically telling him to toughen up.
Fez 2 will not remain cancelled. Fish will return to the industry. Many commentators with more experience and understanding than I have already broken down the arguments for and against what happened. My interest in the story is not about the dramatic exit of a recognized industry figure: rather, it’s frustrating and completely predictable that attention would be given to the childish behavior of Beer and Fish, and not the actual topic that started it all.
Beer’s complaint with Fish and Blow was that they did not appreciate the two-way street of journalist-developer relations. Many journalists had worked closely with the two of them to promote their games, but when asked to give a thoughtful comment on this pressing industry issue, both had laughed in journalists’ faces—they very publically (e.g. on Twitter) stated their disdain at games journalists who dared to approach them for their thoughts and belittled the journalist trade on the whole. In short, Beer’s argument was simple: if developers don’t help journalists with commentary on industry issues, journalists should stop helping developers with reviews and coverage of their games.
The relationship between journalists and the people they write about is an interesting conversation topic that extends far beyond the realms of the games industry. The profession of PR is a testament to the complicated nature of journalist and subject, particularly in an industry defined by creativity and personal expression, such as gaming. Positive reviews make or break games: do developers “owe” journalists for positive coverage? If that’s the case, are they entitled to recompense from negative coverage? Is there a responsibility for successful people, people who define industries, to be available to discuss major movements?
Now, we’ll never know. A shining opportunity for a mature, adult discussion about the nature of gaming media and responsibilities of developers has been almost completely destroyed by the fact that some people are far too childish for the real world. Marcus had a valid point about reciprocity in the gaming industry, but he wrapped it up in name calling and cussing that completely obscured the kernel of rationality. Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow (probably) had a rational reason for refusing the opportunities—specifically, they were being asked to comment on rumors and speculation before the news actually broke—but instead of being rational adults, they tried to turn it all into a rage against the media. Names were called, and one of the industry’s most talented creators has walked away.
On the surface, this is a sad story about a fight that got out of control, and how damaging trolls are in the gaming industry. But on a deeper level, this inability to engage in conversations stops the gaming industry from growing up. It’s remarkable that this conflict occurred, but it’s not surprising. Name calling and yelling louder than the next guy have become an accepted part of gaming culture, even at the highest levels of professionalism, just like rampant sexism and racism are the norm in online gaming communities. This is not the first time a journalist and developer will fight like children in the public eye, and it will not be the last, but this is the first time that the damage these childish spats cause is clear.
Two gaming experts had the chance to have a real conversation to improve the gaming industry, but they were too busy calling each other “tosspots” and f***faces to realize it.
In the farthest reaches of the Smithsonian, at the end of a dark corridor, was a large screen indicating the entrance to the Art of Video Games exhibit. On the large screen were snippets of video game cut-scenes from various video games, old and new, from Pac-Man to Heavy Rain. What really caught my eye were not the images on the screen but the statement by guest curator, Chris Melissinos.
Last month, Destructoid’s Ryan Perez expressed his disdain for the industry’s need to validate itself by calling video games “art.” Mr. Perez notes at the beginning of his article that he is neither the first nor the only one to be tired of the “games as art” argument. I personally never bothered to validate video games as art or not art as I felt that if a medium—an experience—could mean so much to me and be such an important part of myself, does it really matter if the public believes it to be art or not?
I believe this to be the reason why I was refreshed to see the words written on the wall. In three short paragraphs, Chris Melissinos explains the importance of video games in his life, as some of the deepest personal and globally connecting experiences in human history. More importantly, Mr. Melissinos makes it clear that the exhibit was not created to educate viewers on why video games are art, but for viewers to make that decision for themselves, that video games “may even be” art.
If I had ever argued that games are art, it was because I believed the definition of art was any piece that made a bold statement that resonated with me when I viewed it. I wondered after reading this panel if Mr. Melissinos wished viewers to leave the exhibit believing games to be art, while still allowing them to come to the conclusion themselves.
I believed that to be the case when I saw the next room, which was filled with demos of games from the original Super Mario Bros. to The Secret of Monkey Island to thatgamecompany’s Flower. Visitors were invited to play through a few minutes of each of those games in the hope that it would either bring back fond memories or help non-gamers understand the meaning of video games and the experiences they offer. Though I could not read what each player in the room was thinking when they were playing, I knew this room was intended to complete the equation explained in the gray panel: the conversation among the game, the artist, and the player.
The final room of the exhibit had a timeline of consoles on display, with video clips from games of different generations from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3. After getting my dose of knowledge and nostalgia (and an array of new photos in my camera), I wondered if the hundreds of strangers around me actually believed games are art, refused to believe they are, or were indifferent of the answer. Did each visitor fulfill Chris Melissinos’s goal of at least deliberating the question?
I took one last look at the gray panel: Three Voices—Artist, Game, Player. In this instance, the Artist is the game developer, the Game is the physical product created by the developer, and the Player is the consumer; the one experiencing the game. As I read the passage one more time, the definitions of each voice began to blur in my mind. I believed this to be the goal of the exhibit as well: to allow viewers—the players—to insert themselves into the concept art they saw, into the game demos on display, and into the memories that returned when looking at the different generations of consoles and games. Though we will never know what exactly emerges within each visitor, we can safely assume that each is wholly unique.
Personally, I still do not believe there is a universal truth on whether or not games are art. I could write an entirely separate piece arguing for the importance of the medium, but for now, I have at least come to this conclusion:
Each visitor of the exhibit is the creator of what they took away and of what they believe video games are to them. I chose to focus on what video games have made me and why I chose to agree with Chris Melissinos’ beliefs on the sacred bond the player makes with the game. For these reasons, I believe that the conversation between the game, the artist, and the player—and the blurring of the lines separating the three—brings about a fourth voice. And it is for these reasons that the identity of the fourth voice is up to the player to decide.
Whether or not E3 is still the games industry’s foremost gathering, or whether that honor has been usurped by shows like GDC or PAX, one thing about E3 remains true every year: It’s nuts. Whether you’re an exhibitor or a reporter, you can expect to run yourself ragged, staying on your feet for hours on end, scrambling to meet your various appointments while trying to wedge in just one more meeting in between the big presentations. Then, you’ll try to see just how much socializing you can do while trying to finish the rest of your workload that evening — assuming the Wi-Fi works in your hotel room — and convince yourself that 4 hours of sleep will be enough to let you get up and do it all again the next day.
This pattern of self-inflicted abuse is true for most conventions and expos, of course, but the brutal traffic of Los Angeles and the mainstream appeal of the biggest names in gaming makes E3 especially trying for even the most seasoned attendee. Thankfully, your friends at TriplePoint are here with another helpful set of tips and reminders to help ease the pain of next week’s quagmire. Continue reading Surviving E3 2012
The recent rise of mobile as a key platform in the gaming space is accompanied by meteoric growth in asynchronous gameplay. Not what you typically envision when hearing of the latest “multi-player videogame,” asynchronous games do not require the two or more participants to be playing simultaneously; rather, players make turns at their convenience. Chart toppers such as Words With Friends, Hero Academy and Draw Something have millions of people around the world playing asynchronous games daily.
The appeal of this detached gameplay mode on the mobile platform is obvious: by not having to participate “in-sync,” players are free to go about their day, logging in to make a move only when it’s convenient. Growing up, getting a quick game of StarCraft going with my friends required planning in advance to ensure everybody was free (or hoping they were signed into Ventrilo). Now the rich, social experience of multiplayer gaming is available anywhere, anytime, and with any of your hundreds of Facebook friends.
Without a doubt, asynchronous gameplay is bringing millions of new gamers online. Everybody from busy professionals to even busier moms can find time throughout the day to glance at their phones and lay down a quick 20-point word or crudely sketch a sunflower for their friends. These types of people that could never carve out a two-hour block of time to delve into the latest RTS or explore the world of a new MMO are exactly the target audience for asynchronous games.
Recently, I became completely addicted to Zynga’s Words With Friends. My phone buzzed constantly with updates – after all, with 10 or 15 games happening simultaneously, there’s always somebody free to play. I am, and imagine I always will be, a huge Scrabble fan, and my initial enthusiasm motivated the first few weeks of play. However, after a few months of playing WWF, I found myself oddly numb to the experience. Sliding my finger across each subsequent “New Move” notification pop-up seemed more and more of a chore and less about enjoying the game. I was no longer playing because I was immersed in the game, but rather because felt beholden to making the next move so my friends would not be left hanging.
A few months back, I finally snapped out of my daze and started reflecting on the experience, ultimately concluding that I expected too much of asynchronous gameplay. Like most of my daily electronic information flow, the game simply became another source for that short, addicting burst of serotonin so many of us crave in the Digital Age, with little to gain that could not be found in a casual glance at Twitter.
I may think that I’m a busy person and at times certainly am, but I’m no mom rushing kids to soccer practice and dance recitals. In retrospect, I probably spent close to two hours a day keeping up with WWF – not exactly a “non-disruptive” amount of time. Keep in mind, this was not two hours I scheduled specifically for play, but like with most players, time taken in small increments throughout the day that quickly added up to the point of distraction. This most convenient form of gaming was not only sucking an hour or two out of each day, but also doing so when I should have been focusing on work or enjoying the company of friends.
A few months free of Zynga’s iron grip and I’m making a point to schedule time for the sort of immersive gaming that I used to know and love, inviting friends over for a game of Super Smash Bros. or investing the time to set up a game of Risk or Settlers of Catan. I still play the occasional game of Draw Something or Scramble With Friends, but my notifications have all been turned off, and the icons are gone from my home screen. Now, I play only when I’m truly not busy or have made a point to invest some time.
Asynchronous games are part of a wider push in the tech space to make everything as convenient, connected and on-demand as possible. “No time to sit down and play? Just have these bite-sized snippets instead!” That’s great for people on the go, but for those of us accustomed to the deep immersion that comes with truly investing yourself in a game, with setting up your StarCraft hotkeys and arguing over which dictionary to use for Scrabble, there is more than a bit of magic missing so far, in asynchronous gameplay.
While I may sound like the exception to the rule in the face of so much overwhelming success, evidence suggests many others experience the same burnout and disappointment after the initial rush to play. However, I’m confident that the next generation of asynchronous game developers will mitigate these issues with innovative new features that not only keep us hooked, but also tear us away when things start to get out of hand and our entertainment threatens to become a chore.
Last Friday, a few of us headed up to Boston for the Penny Arcade Expo. As a first-timer to the show, I was in awe at the sheer size at one of the biggest gaming events for consumers in the US. I could feel the excitement as soon as I walked through the door; I’d equate it to an insane amount of eight year olds at Disney World for the first time. Wait times to play games were up to three hours long and there were no complaints about the lines (you won’t find that at Disney World).
PAX East broke records this year with 69,500 attendees, surpassing every US industry event to date (including PAX Prime and E3). Attendees were able to play the newest and best games the industry has to offer, including getting sneak peeks at Battlefield 3, Duke Nukem Forever, L.A. Noire, Portal 2, Mortal Kombat 9, SOCOM 4, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Red Faction: Armageddon, Brink, The Hunted: Demon Forge, Gears Of War 3 and Bioshock’s Infinite.
We also saw some great work coming from the indies, too, including new games from Twisted Pixel Games, Halfbrick, Fire Hose Games, Hothead Games, Moonshot Games and Ska Studios. No matter what kind of games you like to play, there was something for everyone, including a separate section for tabletop games with its very own library in which attendees could use to check out games.
If you didn’t get the chance to check out PAX in Boston, make sure you attend PAX Prime this August in Seattle and mark off April 6-8 for PAX East in 2012.
See you in August!
Last week TriplePoint attended the 3rd annual MIT Business in Gaming conference in Boston. This series will break down some of the biggest and best ideas into tasty, digestible morsels.
Are you a hardcore gamer or a casual player? With each passing year, more and more people fall into at least one of these categories. To some extent, the console wars still rage on as players debate graphical prowess and the price of getting online. However, the fanboyism of the last two decades has fallen to the wayside as gamers take up arms in an even larger battle, one that pits Volvo-driving soccer moms against Mountain Dew-swilling video game fanatics. There’s been a great deal of discussion surrounding social vs. hardcore gaming, and this panel put forth some lofty ideas.
- Social gaming is dead …or at least the term “social” is becoming increasingly irrelevant. As social elements such as matchmaking, leaderboards and the automatic “I just trumped your score” pings from Geometry Wars 2 work their way into more hardcore games, their presence will be less notable. Features like the Autolog competition-between-friends system in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is destined for all upcoming Criterion releases. These are both clever ways to make that million-player leaderboard relevant to you and your gamer buddies. So even when you’re alone, you’re still playing (asynchronous) multiplayer.
- Play with your buddies, not just their scores. Synchronous gaming is on the rise; this occurs any time players are all participating at once, rather than just watering one another’s crops whenever it’s convenient. Gazillion’s Nik Davidson went so far as to say that synchronous gaming is “fetishized” by the industry, and that a hybrid of the two makes the most sense. Letting players take their character on the go means the game is always in mind and close at hand. More engaged = more likely to spend.
- Whatever you call it, it’s growing fast. Casual games that make money hand over fist, like Ravenwood Fair, are popping up like weeds. IGDA NY President Wade Tinney points out, “With each passing month comes a new MMO or casual title that changes all the rules.” This ongoing evolution is drastically outpacing all other entertainment markets.
The boys and girls of the NES Generation are now becoming parents, and the game industry’s growth will continue to accelerate. As more and more of the populous understands game mechanics and is willing to invest in gaming entertainment, this social/hardcore/whatever industry has quite a sunny future.
- Nik Davidson – Gazillion/The Amazing Society
- Nabeel Hyatt – Zynga Boston
- Daniel Witenberg – Lego Universe
- Wade Tinney – Large Animal Games & President IGDA NY
Last night, over one hundred video game players, journalists and scholars braved freezing temperatures to convene in downtown Manhattan and discuss their hobby of choice. December’s NY Gaming Meetup hosted the NY Videogame Critics Circle, a group of journalists committed to establishing an East Coast presence on the global gaming map. Moderated by industry veteran (and group leader) Harold Goldberg, the critics waxed philosophical on the highs, lows, and gooey centers of the 2010 year in gaming. Rising above the ranks of petty fanboyism, the critics touched on a wide range of topics:
- While 2010 was a good year for gaming, it may not have qualified as a “great” one. With an abundance of sequels, many developers played it safe. Blame the struggling economy for the dearth of new IP’s.
- The battle between indies and majors rages on. AAA titles like Call of Duty are reliable earners, but rarely grab the attention of this particular crowd, who often favor smaller games with shoestring budgets, games that have not been “developed by a focus group.” One glowing exception was Mass Effect 2, a blockbuster which is sure to get a lot of attention in the annual Game of the Year debates.
- Some independent games like Super Meat Boy and TriplePoint client LIMBO got love from the critics, illustrating the fact that the burden of proof differs greatly between indie games and titles from major studios. This also scraped the surface of the “rigidity in video game pricing” debate, a complex topic that deserves its own post.
- Red Dead Redemption was a great game, no contest. It was also responsible for Alan Wake’s disappointing sales. Chock this up to a marketing failure; for future reference, literally no other games should be pitted against a release from Rockstar Games.
- Red Dead was also a sterling example of the ways that DLC can not only bolster a game’s staying power, but also explore an entirely unique timeline or reality. Undead Nightmare was far more than just a bandwagon-inspired cash-in. Mass Effect 2 was similarly praised for giving players a complete disk-based experience, with DLC that provided a unique spin on familiar characters and settings. If nothing else, 2010 was the year that cemented downloadable content as an unavoidable part of a game’s development and marketing lifecycle.
- Borrowing the microtransaction model wasn’t the only way that 2010’s console releases were inspired by their social brethren. Players are becoming just as accustomed to in-game payments as they are to maintaining and upgrading virtual real estate. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood offered gamers a chance to rebuild Rome, just as they’d expand an online farm or browser-based pet shop. Expect to see even more cross-promotional games like Gunslingers, the free (hype-generating) Facebook game that lead up to Red Dead’s proper release.
- Minecraft was considered the year’s Cinderella story. The baffling title came out of left field to build a userbase over 2 million strong. More importantly, over a quarter of those gamers actually paid $13 to play a game that’s still in its alpha stage infancy.
That was the year in games, summed up (and hotly debated) in 90 minutes. Let’s hope that 2011 delivers even more unique gaming experiences and spreads them out across the entire twelve month calendar.
To keep up with the motley crew of Gaming Critics, follow them on Twitter.
A recent keynote at the Develop conference by Hello Games’ Sean Murray cast a harsh light on the realities of publishing downloadable games on home consoles like Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade, Sony’s PlayStation Network and Nintendo’s WiiWare Channel. He purports that self-published games like his recently-released critical darling Joe Danger (which sold 50,000 units week one on PSN) are both more successful and more profitable than those of major studios.
Arguably the most popular digital download channel, Apple’s App Store offers an extremely low barrier to entry – just $99 for a dev-kit and a revamped review process that sees new apps approved or denied in as little as three days. While a few iPhone gaming giants have emerged, there’s still plenty of room for a basement programmer to strike it rich (or at least make the “What’s Hot” list). In contrast, console gaming depends on the distribution models established decades ago by the book publishing industry. In order to get a disk-based game into players’ living rooms, developers must partner with a publisher who sets up the distribution (including dubious deeds like retailer exclusives). Self-publishing a game with a box and a manual is borderline impossible. But even when it comes to the zeroes and ones that comprise downloadable games, Murray perceives major developers as more of a burden than an asset to young development studios. According to his research, casual card, puzzle and word games make up 31% of the offerings on console download services but less than 5% percent of the sales. This flies in the face of the notion that casual players fuel the download market. In fact, it’s the long-time, hardcore gamers that are driving downloadable game sales, as evidenced by the top three selling XBLA games of 2009 (multiplayer-only FPS Battlefield 1943, oldschool-inspired beat-‘em-up Castle Crashers, and controller-crushingly difficult dirt bike platformer Trials HD). While the EA-published Battlefield may owe part of its success to the series’ long history, the other two titles were created (and published) by tiny development teams.
Murray argues that big publishers offer very little to developers in the downloadable games market, and this stems from both lack of experience and lack of effort or interest. As he puts it, the person in charge of the digital download services at most publishers “is not necessarily the biggest deal for the overall structure of the publisher.” For the time being, Joe Danger is exclusive to PSN – Sony makes their development tools readily accessible, unlike Microsoft and Nintendo. As a passive rebuttal to the PSN Store, Microsoft created the Xbox Live Indie Games channel (née Xbox Live Community Games), and while it’s relatively easy to get a title published there, the games are incredibly difficult to locate, let alone market and promote to fans.
So what’s a developer to do? For PlayStation games like Murray’s Joe Danger, the money saved through self-publishing could be spent on a high-caliber PR agency (ahem) to spread the word and boost downloads. For a game destined for XBLA or WiiWare, write your local congressperson! And be patient. As consumers become more and more comfortable keeping their entertainment in the cloud, the move toward online stores will pressure companies like Microsoft and Nintendo to revise their strategy.
There’s one other major stumbling block – NPD sales data for downloadable games is between difficult and impossible to obtain. As a result, publishers can’t use existing titles as a reference point to gauge the risk and potential profit of developing a new game. If the console giants would relinquish this information and break down other barriers to entry, publishers both great and small could bring more creatively adventurous titles to market. With this capitalistic system, gamers would enjoy all types of new options, from big-screen versions of the $.99 bite-size games that dominate the App Store to $30 small entrées that don’t fit the current pricing/distribution mold. With vibrant, fun-focused games like Joe Danger, the reign of the murky brown über -macho FPS may be coming to a close. It’s simply up to us, as the nerdy masses, to e-vote with our digital wallets.
It’s no secret that, when it comes to home entertainment, we’re in the midst of a distribution revolution. Content once tied to broadcast airwaves is now being ravenously consumed on the internet via computers, video game consoles and set top devices.
TriplePoint has the privilege of working with some of these new media startups. PlayOn (which recently made the jump to iPhone; CNET link) streams Hulu and other web video onto PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, without the need for a costly Hulu+ account. For those without a video game console, Softkinetic is providing a Microsoft Kinect-like experience to a massive install base via their set top box gesture recognition system.
With two cameras and a powerful microphone, Kinect knows who’s in front of the TV. For games like Dance Central, the technology will track all the poppin’ and lockin’ you can throw at it. But as an entertainment hub, a Kinect-enabled Xbox 360 will change the way that marketers convey their messages. Advertising is the backbone of media, providing the funding for programming and keeping content free for the viewer.
Softkinetic and Microsoft face a major challenge with these user-recognizing innovations. The product must find the right combination of allure, cost and ease-of-use, or at least hit two sides of this triangle. Kinect is rumored to cost $150, putting it well above the $99 impulse-buy sweet spot and closer to the price of a new game console. Softkinetic, on the other hand, will have less features but will also enjoy wider adoption, since the system will piggyback onto cable boxes and not require additional equipment.
As these devices become a fixture of the entertainment centers in dens and rec rooms around the world, ultra-targeted advertising will be commonplace. In order to frame this in a positive light, marketers will highlight the family-friendly aspects of these targeted ad systems. For instance, “No R-rated movie previews if children are detected,” or, similarly “no beer commercials until the registered account holder turns 21.” Of course, there are many aspects of these targeted ads that appeal to advertisers, too. For instance, gender-specific commercials can now be tied to the actual gender of the viewers, rather than the network making educated guesses about the viewing audience based on the channel, program and time of day
Interactive ads are not far behind. Many of today’s preroll web video ads ask if you’d prefer to interrupt your show with 3 traditional thirty-second commercials, or watch a 90 second long-form ad before the show begins. By giving the viewer a choice, marketers engage the audience and have a better change of holding their attention.
With mics and 3D cameras in place, these ads will evolve into mini-games – how many on-screen Pepsi bubbles can you “pop” by waving your hands, before the time runs out? Sponsored gameshow-style quizzes are also possible, since the systems can detect multiple voices in the room. First one to finish this jingle gets 10 points on their gamerscore! “Plop plop, fizz fizz…”
Social media integration is already built into modern game consoles. In the future, before the new Top Chef episode streams, you’ll be prompted to invite other online friends who ‘like’ that show on Facebook to join you and watch together, virtually.
During the show, ads will feature music by artists from your Last.fm account that you’ve “favorited.” Local advertisements will pinpoint your self-identified exact location and give you offers that are relevant to your tastes. For instance, the Italian restaurant below your apartment is offering double-pepperoni for the price of cheese, and they’ll be open for another 45 minutes. Since your credit card is on file with your Xbox Live or PSN account, you can literally say the word and have hot pizza at your door before Padma calls the chef’testants to the judge’s table. Are you watching solo, or did you invite the whole gang over? Accordingly, you’ll get promotions ranging from personal-pan pizza to the ultra-jumbo feast.
There’s a great deal riding on the success of these gesture- and user- recognition systems. Their main strength is in eliminating the “input middleman,” giving users greater control over their own entertainment. They also give marketers new ways to reach consumers. While this new technology is exciting on many levels, it will also present unseen obstacles and take years before adoption is truly mainstream. Only time will tell if the universal remote can survive this Minority Report future.
The buzz surrounding CES 2010 in January was all about 3D technology – new TV sets, new Blu-ray players, games, mobile phones…. the list goes on and on. Also contributing to the 3D hysteria, films adopting the 3D format (one in particular that involved blue aliens and told a cliché storybook tale of love, courage and rebellion) are captivating moviegoers around the globe. While heavy tech addicts are drooling over 3D technology, the jury is still out on whether the mass market will be willing to spend their hard-earned clams on rigging the home with 3D. I attended the 3D Gaming Summit seeking answers on whether the world was truly ready for 3D.
The 3D Gaming Summit took place April 21-22, here in Los Angeles at the Hilton – Universal City (link). The inaugural year placed focus on games as the key driver for the future success of 3D technology. While there was a clear general consensus that 3D is great in the movie theaters, many in attendance asserted that for the technology to truly take off, gamers are pivotal in driving adoption and securing market penetration. Not only did leading members of the interactive entertainment industry speak on the subject, Hollywood heavy hitters including John Landau and Paul W.S. Anderson shared their thoughts as well. Across the board, everyone seemed to agree that the immersive experience of a videogame and 3D are the perfect couple that will usher in the new era of home entertainment.
But are consumers ready? This was the central topic to Michael Cai’s presentation, a block of time that I devoted my attention to like a hawk. The VP of Research, Videogames, with Interpret LLC (link) disclosed figures that encouraged a cautious approach in the future of 3D. Of the 1,400 surveyed (ages 12-65), theatrical awareness of the technology is high, but awareness for 3D in the home is very low. Satisfaction for 3D is high, but the lack of awareness for capabilities in the home exhibits a huge desire for market education.
For their 3D fill, among core gamers in the group, 23% preferred a PC/monitor, 16% PC/TV, and 61% preferring to game on a console/TV setup. In terms of content, FPS and racing games were noted as the most desirable 3D experience. This puts Sony in a unique position with its latest PS3 firmware upgrade that enables 3D. Interpret’s research indicated that the PS3 will help to drive 3D adoption in the home, with 10% of those polled who do not own a console fully intending to purchase a PS3 regardless of 3D, and 13% citing that they would purchase with 3D (a 3% increase because of 3D alone). With the impending Sony Move release, and an on-stage demo by SCEA’s Platform Research Manager – Developer Support, David Coombes, showcasing how the technology might work in a 3D environment, it is clear that the PS3 just grew a third leg in the console race with a boost from 3D technology.
What are the reasons cited for not purchasing 3D technology in the near future? “Too expensive” said 74% of the group surveyed, with 43% discouraged by the uncomfortable glasses, and 30% believing the technology is still too nascent. This is a major indicator that the technology is still in its infancy and consumers are reluctant to invest and adopt in 3D for the home.
There are many hurdles to overcome before we see true widespread adoption of the technology, but some of the primary and most basic of challenges discussed can be wrapped up in a few simple points.
Just to watch 3D movies, you’ll need a 3D TV complete with compatible glasses (ships together), which automatically demands hundreds of dollars more investment. Add to this the fact that many consumers only recently upgraded to HD in the last several years. In addition, having to purchase a compatible 3D-capable Blu-ray player and the additional cost of the discs to provide content, and it becomes apparent that there are high cost barriers to mass market penetration. All this just for movies?
We’ll see a different story with core gamers. This audience tends to invest heavily in new technologies that improve the experience – a $600 hi-def console, 1080p television sets that reach well over 50 inches, multiple purchases of $60 games throughout the year – and that’s just the console market. PC hardware easily runs in the thousands of dollars, including annual upgrades to keep up with processing demands. Should the consumer be asked to make an additional $1,000 investment for an even more immersive videogame experience through 3D? They sure will be tempted to, as one gamer after another experiences high quality 3D games built from the ground up. To echo much of what was being said on the show floor and my own personal experience at the NVIDIA booth, “ya gotta see it to believe it.”
Standardization and Fragmentation
It’s the same old song – new technologies debut, the major players claim their stake with proprietary formats, and products ship without regard for compatibility. Go to the movies and you’ll use polarized glasses that work with what you’re viewing, as long as they’re compatible with the technology provider – e.g. works with RealD (75% theater market share), but not at the IMAX theater. Take those glasses home, they won’t work with Samsung’s 3D sets. TV manufacturers use Active Shutter technology, which communicate with the TV set to move in sync and present 3D images. However, Samsung’s active shutter glasses won’t work with Sony’s Bravia line because of the different radio frequency that they communicate over. Nor will these active shutter glasses work with NVIDIA’s solution for the PC. The list goes on and on…
We always experience this with new technologies, but with 3D, to be blunt, it’s a real mess. Attendees unanimously agreed and echoed the sentiment that 2010 is the year of confusion for 3D. Hopes remain that standards will sweep across the board in 2011, while consumer fears of outdated technology and lost investments (e.g. HD-DVD) will continue over the next 5-10 years as the industry shakes out.
Build quality content and the consumers will come… Apple is experiencing tremendous success because of the developer support they’ve been able to garner for the easy creation of apps on the content ecosystem. This is similar with 3D – there are good and bad forms of content depending on the execution. Some movies were created from the ground up in 3D (Avatar), using 3D cameras and 3D tools in production. Others were converted into 3D after the fact using special software. Amazingly, consumers are noticing the difference in quality and critics are calling the latter out…
Particularly in games, the core audience isn’t one to be fooled. For a quality 3D experience, games will need to be built from the ground up in 3D, which unfortunately requires quite an additional investment. Yet, without a market ready to purchase and experience the game in 3D, developers will be reluctant to take on the project, especially in the case of big publishers. We’ll be seeing games come out over the next several years that were converted into 3D in post-production, which won’t help to drive adoption because of the average quality. Yet, as people invest in 3D technology over time and the market grows, we’ll see more developers putting some sweat into the development of the game, creating something truly unique and fascinating.
For 3D technology to reach mass adoption levels in the home, gamers will need to prove that value exists in the experience. Current confusion surrounding the technology will surely hamper the speed at which 3D technology enters the household, particularly with the general consumer market. High costs and standardization issues will limit the potential for 3D technology in the short term, but 5-10 years from now we may all be singing to a different tune as one gamer at a time drives adoption. Until then, it’ll be an interesting ride to watch the industry move in real-life 3D without any special glasses on.
For a complete look into the summit and the state of the 3D industry, head on over to Tom’s Guide for a story by James Pikover: http://www.tomsguide.com/us/3DTV-Gaming-Summit,review-1540.html
Our client, GUNNAR Optiks (www.gunnars.com), will be releasing a new line of digital performance 3D eyewear this summer, which will work at all RealD cinemas and with linear polarization 3D technology for PC gaming. Head on over to their site and keep an eye out for the release!
It’s not uncommon to get a journalist’s perspective – after all, they’re paid to write down their thoughts, feelings and opinions. In the case of most game journalists, their primary task is to let the game-loving public know which titles are worth playing, in what boils down to a glorified “Buy It, Rent It, Skip It” rating scale. But last night on the NYU campus, a few prominent game journalists discussed their craft itself as part of the Game Center lecture series. Stephen Totilo of Kotaku, Leigh Alexander of Gamasutra and Jamin Brophy-Warren of Kill Screen (a new gaming print publication, gasp!) gave their take on a variety of highbrow video game topics like gender, violence and the death of print.
The three industry vets spent a good deal of time discussing the difficult nature of writing for such a niche audience. As Totilo pointed out, games are experienced quite differently than movies, and are thus a lot trickier to cover. Because modern games are both expensive and expansive, a journalist can’t assume readers have a “high gaming literacy.” That is to say, even with an extremely popular game like Modern Warfare 2, a writer can’t take for granted that players have beaten the single player campaign or that they’ve shared the same overall experience. This makes games journalism far more nebulous than film criticism, a field where it’s safe to assume that everyone has viewed the same movie in essentially the same way. It may take a player a few days to beat a game, or that quest may be stretched out over a year. Plus, as gaming becomes increasingly popular, the sheer number of must-play games can overwhelm even a dedicated nerd’s gaming time. Case in point – Totilo Beat 30 games last year, but played over 100. This abundance of games is one of the biggest hurdles for the PR industry.
Another hot topic was the divide between mainstream and enthusiast games press, which has increased steadily in the past years. But as the writers were quick to point out, some the most compelling pieces of prose stem from outlets like the New York Times, who approach their rare game coverage as a Times’ piece first and a gaming piece second. In short, the range of games coverage is as diverse as the quality of the games themselves.
From a PR perspective, the takeaway here is a bit muddy. At TriplePoint our goal is to connect with journalists and secure coverage in a wide variety of outlets, spanning the gap between the fanatically enthusiast and the widest-reaching mainstream press, preferably through a mix of print, web and televised content. We have our work cut out for us, just as these three journalists have a difficult task before them. By keeping the communication lines as open as possible, all parties stand to benefit. But with so many games and just one Leigh Alexander, for instance, it’s vital to stay in tune with her thoughts and opinions via persistent reading and social media monitoring. Because when the day comes when we’re working with an amazing new JRPG, I want her to be the first to know. As Jamin Brophy-Warren, points out, “When it comes to movies I just sit there and watch, but in games I’m the one making things happen.” That’s a very powerful experience – the glue that holds our industry together.