Hello one and all.
Apologies for the radio silence as we raced toward the end of 2016, but life, and my day job, intervened and kept me from the Inner Circle. Hopefully, I will be able to keep this blog on more of a consistent schedule in 2017 and give you a few things worth reading/thinking about.
So, with that being said, what say we close out 2016 by taking a look at what to expect from the core gaming platforms in 2017? Let’s start with the market leader…
I think it is safe to say that, with the launches of PlayStation Pro and PlayStation VR in 2016, Sony Interactive Entertainment in all-in with the 8th console generation. They have pushed all of their chips to the middle of the table and there is next to nothing that we can expect from them, on the hardware side, in 2017. Or, for that matter, in what remains of the current hardware cycle. Going forward in the new year, the platform holder will rely on hardware price drops and bundles, third-party software sales and sales of first-party games that, with a few notable exceptions (Uncharted 4 being the most prominent), have failed to move the needle much over the past three years. You know… straight from the PlayStation Sales and Marketing Playbook.
With the debut of PS Pro and the ushering in of mid-cycle hardware iteration, it is not even clear at this point that there will be a “PlayStation 5.” While it is fairly common knowledge among my colleagues that the Pro has made a limited impact on the marketplace, I believe it is only a matter of time (and dropping component prices) before the Pro becomes the PlayStation family’s base model and the next, even more 4K-y, more-HDR-y Super Pro becomes their high-end entry – thus ending the idea of the 5-7 year hardware generation life-cycle and any thought of SIE delivering a true Gen 9 PS 5. With regard to PSVR – color me “disappointed.” Actually, I can’t even say that I am disappointed. The hardware has done exactly what I thought it would do at retail and the “experiences” have been underwhelming. Like prior adjunct technology attempts by the company (Move, Stereo 3D, Vita, Wonderbook, etc.), it looks like any dream of continued long-term support and/or deep, AAA core games coming from SIE’s Worldwide Studios, let alone major third-party publishers and developers, is a pipe dream. As I own both PSVR and Oculus Rift, I get a close-up view of their respective ecosystems, and there is a lot of crossover. The vast majority of the titles are simple wave shooters, cockpit racers and games that really are tech demos – ranging in price from $2-$20. While there are a few standouts – Arkham VR, Lucky’s Tale, Edge of Nowhere and a handful of others – the vast majority of available software could be classified more as time wasters than AAA type games. With the exception of the tip of the spear gaming [...]
[UPDATE] This article was first published on 6/22/16. With the launch of PlayStation VR (PSVR) imminent, I thought it would be interesting to revisit this piece. Early reviews of PSVR from the warm market media are mixed, with many citing issues with motion control and software that is much more tech demo than fully fleshed-out experience (as is the case with the vast majority of VR content available for Oculus Rift and htc Vive.) I will be putting the hardware and launch software through their paces over the next week or so and will share my opinions/experience with you in due course. For those of you that are interested in PSVR, I also encourage you to take a look at a feature I posted back in October of 2015 ( it can be found here.) As with any new technology at launch, “caution” is the keyword. Exciting as the potential may be, the reality is that consumers are looking at spending $400-$500 for the privilege of being one of the early few and a number of factors must be considered before making the leap – not the least of which are market potential, publisher/manufacturer track record and commitment, third-party support and the value of the current experience.
Did you know that “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” has sold to less than 7% of PlayStation 4’s installed base? The game is, arguably, the single biggest first-party title that SIE will release during the platform’s life-cycle and, to date, it has sold under three million units. While this is, in this day and age, a very solid performance for a $60 game, it does highlight the biggest challenge for PlayStation VR. If the biggest, most critically-acclaimed game release for your hardware is selling to less than 7% of your potential customers, what can you expect from a $500 peripheral – an investment larger than your consumer has made in committing to your platform?
I pose these questions because SIE is asking a lot of their most loyal and well-heeled customers with PlayStation VR, and the company’s track record for floating adjunct technology for their current platforms, then abandoning it when the consumer base doesn’t materialize is almost 100%. PlayStation Move, PlayStation Vita, Stereoscopic 3D, the PS2 HDD, Wonderbook (remember that?) – the list goes on and on. But, with PlayStation VR, the risks to the consumer are so much greater given the level of investment required. And, it isn’t just the $500 investment in the headset, camera and Move controllers. I have spoken with many people with knowledge on the subject and the general consensus is that the PlayStation 4 does not have the processing muscle to provide for a quality virtual reality experience akin to that on offer from Oculus and htc Vive. So, the implication is that PS4 gamers that want to get the true VR experience are going to have to purchase the upgraded PS4 currently known as “Neo.” With a retail price likely to [...]
Over the past two weeks, the latest episodes of two games that I really enjoy, “Batman: The Telltale Series,” and “King’s Quest,” were released. In the case of Telltale’s episodic series, the new episode was the second of five scheduled for what is sure to be the first season of many, with each episode of season one scheduled to appear every six weeks. In the case of King’s Quest, this week’s offering was the fourth chapter of five that are scheduled. The first was released over a year ago, and “King’s – Quest Chapter 3: Once Upon a Climb” was made available in April. But, no matter the timing – rigidly scheduled or taking the more casual “when it’s done, it’s done” approach – both series’ illustrate the fundamental problem with episodic games.
There is too much time elapsed between releases.
We all know that games take many human hours to create and that the process of creating them can be messy, and that their ultimate release can be subject to delays for any number of technical and business reasons. But, when your games are built around a continuing narrative that requires the player to recall the details of the episode prior, six weeks is way too long – and six months is simply intolerable. There is a reason that episodic television is built around weekly beats that collectively add up to a “season’s” worth of entertainment, or that “binge watching” is all the rage – neither require that you go back and watch the prior episodes because you’ve forgotten everything that has previously transpired. This extended time between episode/chapter releases results in misty, water-colored memories of the way things were, and a complete disconnect from that narrative.
My thesis is not built solely on the two games mentioned above, either – there are a number of arrows in my quiver. “Blues and Bullets,” “Life is Strange,” and a host of games developed by Telltale all have two things in common: first, that they are games that I, and many others, have enjoyed, and, second, that they basically require that you play each episode of the game series in question, play that same episode again once the next episode is released, and play it a third time (minimum) once the entire season has been released. Of course, a lot of players won’t do that and simply wait until the entire season is complete before diving in (usually at a discounted price) – defeating the whole business plan behind episodic gaming.
The idea for most episodic game developers is that they develop the first two to four hour episode on their own dime (or the dime so thoughtfully provided by their financial backers) and release it into the wild to see what kind of consumer and critical response it receives. If it is a hit, or it at least comes close to [...]
Sony recently issued a self-congratulatory statement that it had sold more than 2.7 million units of “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” in the game’s first week of release. Read the fine print, however, and you’ll see that this number represents global sales, not North America. Sony pegs the worldwide sales of the PlayStation 4 console at around 40 million. Which means that a mere 6% of PS4 owners purchased a copy of Uncharted 4… arguably the best exclusive title that PlayStation has to offer. Which means that 94% of PS4 owners did not purchase the game! This begs the question…what are they waiting for?
Sure, not everyone likes the same type of games. Some people just like RPGs, while others only like first-person shooters. There are fans who play Call of Duty or Madden almost exclusively. But Uncharted 4 is hardly the sort of niche title that is inaccessible to the casual gamer. Indeed, the movie-quality acting and story line should appeal to everyone, and both hardcore and casual gamers can adjust gameplay settings to make the game as much (or as little) of a challenge as they prefer. Add near-unanimous critical praise (screw you, Washington Post!) giving the game a high Metacritic, and there is no good reason why more people shouldn’t be buying this game.
So why aren’t they?
Is it the high cost of games? Sixty dollars isn’t exactly a movie ticket, although if you are taking (and feeding) a family of four, it comes close. Compared to other forms of entertainment such as books and music, however, videogames aren’t exactly a cheap hobby. But, historically, the price of videogames has not gone up with inflation. In the 1980’s, the latest 8-bit Atari 2600 cartridges retailed for $40, and I can remember paying $60 for a SNES cartridge in the 1990’s. On the other hand, there wasn’t a used game market back then, or digital outlets undercutting each other. So, perhaps there are a number of people wanting to play Uncharted 4 who are willing to wait a few months to purchase a used copy for less – or to wait for the inevitable price drop.
Is it the large volume of games available? The complaint developers have against the Apple Apps Store is that there are so many games available that it is difficult for titles to stand out and get noticed. The PlayStation Store, with its weekly release of forgettable downloadable titles, is starting to follow that trend. But Uncharted 4 is not an indie, download-only title from a small studio with little or no marketing budget. Indeed, Uncharted 4 commercials are appearing on prime-time television. Given that sales will start to dramatically decline following the first-week, it is likely that Uncharted 4 might end up shipping 4-5 million units. How does that compare to other titles in recent gaming history?
Naughty Dog’s own Crash Bandicoot titles sold 5, 6 and 7 million units on the original PlayStation. The first Metal Gear Solid on PS One sold around 7 million [...]
As a middle-aged gamer, I had heard of Skylanders of course, but I didn’t care about it. Other than Spyro, I didn’t know any of the characters involved, and the gameplay didn’t interest me. But, when I heard that Disney was entering the space, I thought for sure that they would quickly conquer the market. A combination of enormously popular IPs (Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Muppets, Star Wars) with collectible toys and videogames? Sounds like a license to print money!
Sadly, less than three years later, Disney has announced that they are no longer supporting Infinity. My dreams of seeing an Indiana Jones play set, or more classic (Goofy, Peter Pan) and modern (Ariel, Beast, Hercules) characters have been dashed forever.
Looking back, it seems like Disney never had a clear vision for Infinity in the first place… or, at least several of their decisions showed a lack of concern for the fans or an understanding of the market. Here’s a quick summary of some of the good and bad:
Considering that the Infinity figures included live-action characters (Pirates, Lone Ranger, Marvel Avengers, Tron, Star Wars), stop-motion characters (Jack Skellington), traditionally animated characters (Disney) and computer-animated characters (Pixar), you would think it impossible to create a unified look. But, the sculptors nailed the visuals for each character, creating miniature works of art that collectors might have bought for display alone… provided they weren’t so expensive!
Without the ability to download an upgrade for later versions of the game, players could only use Playsets with a certain version of Infinity. Because the character information had to come from the disk, old characters could be used in later versions of the game, but new characters could not be used in older versions of the game.
Although the Playsets focused on more popular IPs, Disney reached deep into its well to come up with power disks from movies such as Condorman, The Rocketeer, Gus, Treasure Planet, Bolt and Frankenweenie… not to mention vehicles from Disneyland attractions such as Mr. Toad, Alice, Dumbo and the Electrical Light Parade.
Toys R Us carried “clear” versions of the Infinity 1.0 characters. Most of these, however, were characters that already came in starter sets, so you would be buying the figure for the second time. In addition, the “clear” versions lacked any special abilities and, frankly, didn’t look nearly as good as their painted versions. If this was an attempt to create a collectible, it failed miserably.
Character abilities, toys/vehicles and customization, which would have been DLC in any other game, were only available through the purchase of power disks that retailed for $5 (for a pack of two). Only problem? The disks were randomly placed in sealed packs, making it impossible to tell which ones were inside… except, of [...]
Did you ever notice that the video game industry spends a lot of time discussing the “birth” (i.e. launch) of a console, but very little time discussing a console’s “death”? It’s almost as if our reluctance to discuss the subject in real life has carried over to our hobby: “Poor Dreamcast… taken from us much too soon” or “Our Atari 2600 lived a long and happy life, and we will always cherish the memories.” Or “Isn’t it time to pull the plug on the PS3?”
This occurred to me as I recently moved to a new home and had an opportunity to go through my video game collection for the first time in many years. I own cartridge-based systems that are now thirty to forty years-old, and yet they still work fine… if you can find a television with an old antenna connection, that is. Disc-based systems are apparently not quite so sturdy, as anyone who has replaced an Xbox 360 due to the “red ring of death” can tell you. While my original PlayStation still works, twenty years after I purchased it, I’ll be surprised if it lasts another ten or twenty. Am I wrong to think that this is not long enough? After all, our cars, washing machines, televisions and computers all have limited lifespans. So why should game consoles be any different?
The problem is that I don’t think of videogames as consumer electronics. Instead, I see them as forms of entertainment… and, when compared to other forms of entertainment, videogames get the short end of the stick.
My wife is an avid reader with a large library of books. I can’t imagine she would be pleased if the text in her books started disappearing after a certain period of time. And neither of us would appreciate it if our movies and music similarly became unusable with age. But books, movies and music are likely to continue indefinitely because they aren’t dependent upon a particular media. The Beatles album which my parents purchased on reel-to-reel tape or 8-track, which I bought on vinyl or cassette, which my son bought as a CD or an .mp3, is likely to be purchased by my granddaughter on whatever music format exists in 2036. My wife’s favorite book, a copy of which she bought in the 1990’s, was originally written in the 1960’s but is currently available on Kindle and will likely still be in print twenty years from now.
Not so with videogames. Ignoring emulation, and the legal issues involved, if your console of choice becomes inoperable in the future, your games will be worthless… no matter how carefully you store your CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays.
Which is what I found myself doing this past weekend. Years ago I had a bookshelf of PS One CD jewel cases (and the occasional cardboard or plastic boxes for the system’s earliest titles). A few years later, those were joined by the DVD cases of my PS2 collection. When the PS3 was released, and I was running [...]
At their GDC event today, SCE officially confirmed the projections I made below when our site first launched in October of last year. PlayStation VR will be available for $399 in North America this October, with about 50 games and “experiences” scheduled to be available at launch. To get the VR experience, and assuming you don’t have them already, you will need the PlayStation camera and Move controllers, which will be sold separately.
You can see SCE’s official post by its CEO, Andy House, on the PlayStation Blog.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Andrew House, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, when asked about the pricing structure for PlayStation VR (the technology formerly known as Project Morpheus), said; “The unit will be priced as a new gaming platform, without giving numbers.”
That’s OK – I’ll give ‘em to you – expect PSVR to retail for roughly $399 in North America. That’s what new platforms go for, isn’t it? And $399 is a very SCE kind of price. That’s a hell of a lot of money for a product that is being manufactured and distributed by a company notorious for its “fish or cut bait” approach to gaming.
PlayStation Move anyone? 3D Gaming/TV’s? PlayStation Vita? PlayStation Eye? Wonderbook? That big hunk of plastic we were supposed to use for first-person shooters (in combination with PS Move?) What do all of these technologies have in common? The consumer didn’t want them, for any number of reasons, and SCE was not committed enough to any one of these initiatives to spend the product development and marketing dollars necessary to insure a continued flow of software, and messaging that would help the consumer see the world as SCE does.
Ah, but there’s the rub. SCE rarely sees the world as its consumers do. When they launch a new platform, you will usually see a handful of games from them – hopefully one or two that begin to show its potential – then they leave it up to the marketplace and their third-party publishers to produce the vast majority of the content going forward. SCE’s Worldwide Studios, a group that has been under fire for the past few years, particularly for its lack of quality PS4 game development, has been chasing initiative after initiative since the launch of PlayStation 3 and they simply don’t have the resources. Over the past five years, SCE has been killing development teams, not building them.
So, you get a few games to entice the hardcore to buy in to a new platform and then WWS disappears and focuses on their core business – the current console, while SCE hopes that SOMETHING from the third-party development community will light a fire under the platform/technology/peripheral in the retail marketplace.
Enter PlayStation VR; I have known Andy House for almost 20 years and there is one thing I can tell you about him without fear of contradiction – he is NOT a gamer. He is a [...]
What has happened to Nintendo’s “Metroid” franchise?
This is what has happened:Metroid Prime (2002/Gamecube): Worldwide sales of 2.8 MM units Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (2004/Gamecube): Worldwide Sales of 1.3 MM units Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (2007/Wii): Worldwide sales of 1.8 MM Units
I assume you see the downward trend?
The worst offender is the last iteration of the Prime series. Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes were made available on Nintendo’s entry into the Gen 6 hardware sweeps, the Nintendo Gamecube – a platform that achieved a global installed base of 22 million units in its lifetime and that had to struggle to beat out the original Xbox in a market dominated by PlayStation 2. Conversely, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption was the exclusive province of the darling of the mass market, the Nintendo Wii, which achieved global sales of over 100 million units in its active lifetime during Gen 7. In spite of that huge installed base, almost 5x that of its predecessor, Corruption managed to push less than two million units into consumer hands. Selling to less than 2% of an installed base, when you are supposed to be one of the first-party heavy hitters, is never a good sign.
So, now it is 2016 and we find the Nintendo Wii U – the company’s worst-performing home console in its history – nearing the end of a historically short platform life-cycle as it is set to hit its fourth birthday. Hell, Nintendo hasn’t even released a new/original Zelda title on the platform – is there any evidence that they have even considered a new Metroid? It’s been nine long years since Corruption shipped and there hasn’t been so much as a hint of a rumor that Nintendo or Retro Studios (the Prime series’ gatekeeper and developer of record) has even prototyped anything.
Consider this; Since we last saw Samus, Nintendo has released 29 (!) Mario or Mario-related games on Wii and Wii U. To me, this points to nothing more than simple economics. Mario sells, so Nintendo produces more Mario. The Metroid franchise had its best days 14 years ago and, even in the best of times, it was not a massive hit. As a point of comparison; “Mario & Sonic at the Olympics” for Wii was released the same year as Corruption. This cheap tie-in to the Mario franchise sold over eight million units!
Nine years is a LONG time and, while I am not ready to pronounce the IP dead (there is, after all, the much maligned entry on 3DS scheduled to ship at some point in 2016), the combination of time and dwindling consumer interest is NEVER a good one. This prospect is particularly depressing for me (and a vast majority of the warm market gaming media, as the franchise is held in very high esteem by many), as the Prime series was one of the few reasons I owned a Gamecube, and just about the only reason I had to own a Wii.
I guess Nintendo could [...]
It is hard to believe, but it has been nearly EIGHT years since DICE’s “Mirror’s Edge” was released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A critical darling and one of the Gen 7 games that core gamers cited most as a game IP that they would like to see continue, a sequel seemed a long shot, at best, until Electronic Arts announced at E3 2013 that DICE would be revisiting the IP, in the form of a prequel/reboot entitled “Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.”
You might ask; “Why has it taken so long?”
As is usually the case, the answer is “follow the money.”
You see, the powers-that-be at EA and DICE projected that the original Mirror’s Edge would sell three million units, plus. But, after three months in the marketplace (February 2009), EA announced that the game had barely pushed through one million units to consumers. By 2011 – three years later – the game had sold roughly 2.5 million units, with the vast majority of those being heavily discounted. Subsequently, the game has been offered for five bucks or less numerous times through various Steam, XBL and PSN sales and total worldwide unit sales look to be over five million units, life-to-date.
So, it is pretty clear what happened. EA had no confidence that a sequel would amount to much in the marketplace, but also knew that there was a small, but very dedicated, passionate following for the game (and I include myself in this group), and that it was a particular favorite of the warm market gaming media. So, they debated, fired up the ol’ abacus and tried to figure out how to make it work. But, the clock was ticking and time was not on their side to bring to life a sequel in Gen 7, so the plan shifted to Gen 8 and PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. They seemed to be doing their due diligence – asking the right questions of uber fans and targeting perceived weaknesses in the original game – the main focus being the gun play that interrupted the flow of the parkour action that was at the heart of the ME experience (spoiler alert: they have removed it from Catalyst – it never bothered me, but different strokes…), but, as of E3, 2015, there was still no official release date for the game.
Finally, at Gamescom in August, 2015, it was made official that Mirror’s Edge Catalyst would ship on February 23rd, 2016, but was then delayed to May 24th, 2016. Now, we find ourselves about three months away from Catalyst hitting the market and I am not sure what its prospects are. Eight years is an extremely long time between releases for a gaming IP and it is a minor miracle when something like this happens – a game that had no prior pedigree and that was a sales disappointment finding new life in the next generation of hardware. It’s not unprecedented, but its damn close.
Still, there is the old axiom that “absence makes the heart grown fonder.” [...]
The video game industry looks as if it will be going through a period of disruption in 2016, the foundation of which has been laid over the past couple of years. The razor-and-blades business model that has dictated the path of the industry for so long is dying as graphic/hardware technology levels and as game software becomes more of a commodity. The current console generation has driven this point home with the one-two punch of hardware (in the case of PlayStation 4/Xbox One) that is virtually identical, save the color and the nameplate, and digital networks that seem to be competing to see who can deliver more “indie” games and give away the most free stuff.
While Sony Computer Entertainment will tell you that PlayStation 4 has had the most successful first two years of any of their platforms, and, from a hardware sales standpoint it has, the platform’s two main competitors have, to varying degrees, struggled. In spite of massive discounting and various bundle packages, Xbox One continues to lose ground to PS4, in terms of market share on a global basis, and Nintendo’s Wii U has struggled since day one and looks to be moth-balled in the very near future.
Exacerbating the current market conditions are the disturbing early software sales reports from the recently concluded holiday season. While there have been some success stories (Fallout 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3), two major releases look to have underperformed and not delivered on their goals – Square-Enix’s “Rise of the Tomb Raider” and EA’s “Star Wars: Battlefront.” While Rise of the Tomb Raider’s lackluster sales can be attributed to its limited release on a struggling platform (Xbox One) and its retired older brother (Xbox 360), the sales of Battlefront are cause for a greater level of concern. This is a game that had a massive marketing budget, that was front-and-center in PlayStation 4’s holiday promotions, and that had a direct tie-in to what has quickly become the biggest, most successful cinematic release of all-time in “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.” Although overall sales numbers look solid, with EA reporting that they have, to date, sold 12 million units worldwide (a number that has not been confirmed as sold-through and that is currently being debated by several market analysts), widespread brick-and-mortar discounts and hardware bundles were instrumental in the game’s success – a cause for concern in that these discounts were being offered within three weeks of the game’s release.
So, as the video game industry approaches 2016, it is with some deep and fundamental concerns that don’t look to be going away any time soon. There are still too many games competing for consumer attention – both at the AAA and Indie level. Because games can now, in theory, be available forever in their digital incarnations, there is tremendous downward pricing pressure in the marketplace – games are getting cheaper, faster – and the “Race to Zero,” [...]
I, and many of my colleagues at PlayStation, spent a lot of my time on the road in 2013 – evangelizing the future of gaming and PlayStation 4. I was all over – New York, Chicago, LA, Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, again and again, driving the message to our clients/customers that Gen 8, and specifically PlayStation 4, was going to change the face of gaming.
With Microsoft’s help at E3 2013, and a $100 price differential between PS4 and Xbox One, all of our work paid off – PlayStation 4 was a major hit for the 2013 holiday season and it has not slowed down a bit since then, with the platform now sporting an installed base of over 36 million units worldwide and 52% ownership of the Gen 8 market. It also is selling at a faster rate than the undisputed king of consoles, the PlayStation 2, that went on to sell over 150 million units in its lifetime.
The question that has befuddled everyone from analysts and consumers to executives at SCE, however is, “Why?”
Other than Microsoft’s initial PR and marketing missteps and the $100 price differential, which Microsoft took great pains to minimize and eliminate in short order, it is quite the mystery as to why PlayStation 4 continues to dominate the market after its third holiday season.
Let’s see if we can solve it, shall we?
Is the PlayStation Network now superior to Xbox Live?
No. PSN, although improved from its very humble beginnings in Gen 7, still pales in comparison to the experience offered on Xbox Live. PSN is much more susceptible to service outages and disruption. Many of its best features, like game suspension, don’t quite work right and getting booted out of the PlayStation Store is a semi-regular occurrence for most users – this for a service that now will set you back $50/year, and that was free in Gen 7.
Is it easier to manage your game portfolio and add to your library?
No. Xbox One allows users to augment the internal 500 GB HDD via external USB drives – a simple addition that takes all of 2 minutes – plug-and-play. PS4 requires that you remove and replace the internal HDD – which also requires that you reinstall the system software, your games/applications and your save game files – a process that can take days. This is important, of course, because games on both platforms require that you install them to the HDD, for both the disc and digital versions. With many AAA titles weighing in at 50 GB or better, it doesn’t take too long to fill one up.
Does PlayStation 4 have more/better first-party exclusives?
No. Although 2016 looks to find SCE and their Worldwide Studios in a better competitive position, there has been very little from the company in the platform’s first two years of existence to distinguish its offering. In fact, most of the original first-party games to appear on PS4 have been average, at best (Killzone: Shadow Fall, Knack, 1886: The Order (full disclosure – I really [...]
Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox One is a beautiful game – one of the most graphically impressive of the eighth generation of dedicated gaming hardware. It joins a handful of games that really show what the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are capable of. Two years into Gen 8, I think it is safe to say that we are close to seeing all of the bells and whistles that these boxes have to offer – particularly since they are so similar and built around architecture that is not unique (as was the case with PlayStation 3) and that has been much easier for developers to wrap their heads around earlier in the generation life-cycle. So, it begs the question; Is this as good as it is going to get (1080p (most of the time), 60 frames per second (some of the time), and some really cool lighting effects (all of the time))?
I ask this question because, after beating ROTTR on Xbox One, I decided to grab the Xbox 360 version to see how it compares and, for good measure, went back and played a little of Tomb Raider (2013) on my four year old Alienware Area 51 (Nvidia Geforce 660 GPU – nothing special) in 1080p, with all of the bells and whistles turned on and in Stereoscopic 3D. And, you know what? The Xbox 360 version of ROTTR looks pretty damn good and the PC version of Tomb Raider 2013 still looks absolutely spectacular.
I started this exercise because there have been other games in my catalog over the past two years that I thought looked great on Gen 8 hardware, but, after closer inspection, not THAT much better than the Gen 7 versions (Wolfenstein: The New Order, Grand Theft Auto V, and Thief come immediately to mind) – and this doesn’t include all of the Gen 7 games “remastered” for Gen 8 that have flooded the market over this same period of time. The delta between successive generations, in terms of graphic fidelity and speed of play (for lack of a better term), has been shrinking over the past three generations. From Gen 5 (PlayStation, N64) to Gen 6 (PlayStation 2, Gamecube, Xbox), the jump in graphic fidelity was significant – from grainy, low polygon count, rough texture characters and environments to much smoother images and steadier frame rates that were produced in games vastly larger in scope. From Gen 6 to Gen 7 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360), the difference was significant, but less evolutionary – this was the first generation where you started to get the feeling that we were getting very close to the gamer’s ultimate goal of photo-realism. In the move from Gen 7 to Gen 8, all we really have to differentiate the two are some advanced lighting effects and a little more polish all around. The generational comparisons between the two versions of ROTTR show this very clearly. The 360 version looks a little flatter, a little duller, by comparison, but not so much so that the Xbox [...]
Last week, PlayStation Now announced that it has added another 105 games to its subscription library, nearly doubling the total available games to 250. Will this move the needle, or will this be seen as a wasted effort on a service which still needs a compelling reason to exist?
The unstated reason for PlayStation Now seems to be the PlayStation 4’s lack of backwards compatibility with Sony’s prior consoles… unlike the PlayStation 3 (which originally played both PS2 and PS One games) and the PlayStation 2 (which played PS One games.) However, this ignores the fact that the models of PlayStation 3 consoles which actually sold were the ones that dropped backwards compatibility (and the higher price involved.) This also ignores the fact that the PlayStation 4 is currently the market leader in this hardware generation. If PS3 owners didn’t want to trade up because they could no longer play their library of PS3 games, who bought the PS4?
In the video game industry, backwards compatibility is a relatively recent concept. The first major follow-up to a popular console, the Atari 5200, couldn’t play earlier Atari 2600 games without a hardware add-on. The subsequent Atari 7800 could play Atari 2600 games, but not Atari 5200 games. Atari’s final console, the Jaguar, couldn’t play any earlier games. Ditto with Nintendo’s first consoles: the N64, SNES and NES were all unable to play any games which came earlier. At least the SEGA Genesis was able to play SMS games…but, like Atari, it required gamers to purchase a hardware add-on.
As cartridges gave way to discs in the mid-1990’s, one might have expected backwards compatibility problems to become a thing of the past. After all, aren’t CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs all the same size? Except now the problem wasn’t the storage medium, or the loading mechanisms, but the chipsets of the consoles themselves. Sony, especially, created headaches for themselves thanks to the unique architecture of the PlayStation 2 (the custom RISC “emotion engine”) and the PlayStation 3 (the cell microprocessor). Unlike Microsoft, whose Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One architecture was close enough to allow the creation of emulators, Sony could initially only allow for backwards compatibility by including the chipset of the prior console in the subsequent one. That was easier with the PS2, which used the original PlayStation CPU as an I/O controller, but the same could not be said for the PS3… hence the $500 and $600 price tag of the launch models. When it came to the PlayStation 4, however, Sony wisely put an end to that practice.
But, again, is all of this a solution in search of a problem? Is it really that troublesome for people to hold onto their older consoles and game libraries, or is everyone selling off their older consoles to afford the new ones? And is backwards compatibility less of an issue when game publishers release remastered versions of their most popular titles on the [...]
Dirty little industry secret; There are a total of four North American retailers that account for the vast majority of traditional “brick-and-mortar” sales (it’s usually C Channel, steel, plywood, stucco and wall board, but I digress…) The “Big Four” – Gamestop, Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart – have been slugging it out for years now, with all other traditional retailers picking up the scraps.
When it comes to the core gamer, however, this list is even smaller. The reality is that the hobbyist gamer only shops one of two places – Gamestop or Best Buy. Personally, I prefer BB as they offer a greater possibility of getting in-and-out and their employees aren’t trained as zealots that try to up-sell you on everything in the store. And, they merchandise a lot better. The average GS looks like a storage unit for a weekend swap meet.
My personal feelings aside, the fact is that, of these two, GS’ overall sales are far more significant than BB in the gaming space – the following is from a GS press release dated March 26, 2015:
Paul Raines, chief executive officer, stated, “2014 was a year of continued growth, diversification and expansion of the GameStop family of specialty retail brands. In our core video game business, we achieved our highest market share in history with 28% share of next-generation hardware, 46% share of next-generation software and an estimated 42% share of downloadable content.”
The reality of the business is that GS rules and that their only real competition at this point in time comes from Amazon, as they continue to be the dominant player in gaming among e-tailers that are not solely focused on gaming.
Funny story (well… it might be to you – still stings a bit for me); I can still remember a time when Gamestop didn’t “rule” – they were known as Babbage’s Software – before they merged with Software, etc. and became NeoStar, before Neostar declared bankruptcy in September of 1996, and before the eight year odyssey between Chapter 11 and the inception of Gamestop in 2004. Why do I remember this? Well, because they almost took my company, Dimension Publishing, down with them. You see, part of the deal when a business goes belly-up and files for Chapter 11 is that its vendors get screwed. We had a number of publications that they had “purchased” from us on consignment – the most significant of which was “Tomb Raider: The Official Strategy Guide,” which we had just shipped to them – almost $1MM worth of inventory and we wouldn’t see a dime.
Oh, well… you win some… you lose some. The part of the story that actually is funny, though, was my brother walking into the Babbage’s in the Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton, CA to exact what was, in his mind, some small level of revenge/compensation. He strode past the woman at the checkout counter, as she asked him if he needed any help, without a word to her. He then headed straight to the shelf that was [...]
…Or a reaffirmation of their position as the 3rd horse in a two horse race?
As the new year begins, Nintendo finds itself in a position that can’t be too comfortable, with aging portable hardware (3DS) competing in an increasingly iOS and Android-based world, a console platform (Wii U) that is being ignored by consumers worldwide, and first-party software development that has stagnated to the point where the company is barely recognizable and seemingly a shadow of its former self.
If ever there was a platform developer in need of the gaming version of an enema, it is Nintendo in 2016. Unfortunately, that doesn’t look likely as their new platform, codenamed “NX,” is unlikely to be ready for prime time by the 2016 holiday season and, if it is, it will be reliant upon the same first-party software development that has been so anemic in Nintendo’s Gen 8 hardware offering. In addition, the company’s mobile strategy seems to be one that they are approaching VERY conservatively.
Then, we have their first-party software release schedule for their current platforms which, at the moment, looks like this (does not include digital-only releases):
Wii UThe Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD Star Fox Zero The Legend of Zelda
3DSMario & Luigi: Paper Jam Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest Metroid Prime: Federation Force
If you are a cup-half-full type, you could see this schedule as confirmation that Nintendo HAS to be focused on delivering the goods for NX in 2016, right?
If however, you are more of a cup-half-empty individual (for the sake of this discussion, let’s call them “realists”), you have no choice but to see this as more of the same from a company that is in desperate need of a strategic re-boot. The problem is, they have ceded the core gamer market to Sony and Microsoft and the fickle casual market ran away from Nintendo as fast as you can say “Wii Sports Club!”
What’s an international conglomerate currently resting on its laurels to do?
In 2016, it looks like not a whole hell of a lot.
The Legend of Zelda on Wii U – Nintendo’s Attempt to Fight Irrelevance in 2016?
You don’t have to look back too far into the past year to get an idea of the challenges that face the Xbox business in 2016. While the division offered the most significant first-party titles of any platform holder in 2015 (Forza Motorsport 6, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Halo 5: Guardians, Rare Replay, State of Decay: Year-One Survival Edition) and the biggest third-party (timed) platform-exclusive (Crystal Dynamics’ Rise of the Tomb Raider), Xbox One continued to lose market share to PlayStation 4.
While the results were not what the folks at Xbox would have liked, you can’t deny the effort. They put together great bundles. They dropped prices. They had the games. They made a significant upgrade to Xbox Live’s user interface. They took one of the industry’s biggest IP’s (Tomb Raider) away from PlayStation and tried to make it their own. They deployed a tremendous backward compatibility program.
But, the landscape didn’t change in their favor. Evidence? Check out this post on the official Xbox blog.
These aren’t the kind of statistics that PR, Marketing and Sales departments share when they win. These are what I call “Momentum” stats – we used them all the time when I was at SCEA and PlayStation 3 was a distant second to Xbox 360 in North America. Nobody cares about the number of “Achievements” made by the Xbox community or how many times they voted on “Xbox Feedback.” There are only two ways of measuring success in this industry – hardware sales and software sales. Within those two numbers, there are subsets that tell the real story – units sold-through, and average price per unit.
If your talking heads aren’t quoting those numbers, then it’s a good bet that things didn’t go as planned.
Then, there is the story behind Rise of the Tomb Raider. The Xbox division pushed all of their chips to the middle of the table on this one – and who could blame them? The last TR game, a series reboot, was a huge sales success and a hit with critics (it is also one of my all-time favorites.) PlayStation has the Uncharted series – a direct competitor to TR and one that has had even more success in the past few years – so why not try to make the Tomb Raider franchise synonymous with Xbox?
Only it didn’t work.
In the same post referenced above, Xbox makes the claim that the critically-acclaimed Rise of the Tomb Raider sold over 1 million units during the holiday season – one of the few semi-solid statistics that was offered in the post. But, upon closer inspection, this “success” is actually a major disappointment that potentially puts the future of the IP in question. ROOTR was released for both Xbox One and Xbox 360 – to a combined total installed base of over 100 million units worldwide. This means that ROOTR reached less than 1% of its potential market.
To put this in perspective, Grand Theft Auto V has sold-through to roughly 25% of its potential market [...]
As reported widely across the media, Activision Blizzard, Inc. is set to acquire King Digital Entertainment (“Candy Crush”) for $5.9BB in cash (see full press release here.) While KDE stockholders are likely ecstatic over the acquisition, given that they are receiving $18/share – a 20% premium over the 10/30/15 close, one has to wonder if, a year or two down the road, AB stockholders are going to be as thrilled with the investment.
On the surface, the acquisition makes sense – Activision has been slow to engage in the world of social, mobile, free-to-play gaming and KDE is the current market leader in this very volatile, VERY hit-driven space. This space, however, is infamous for crushing (yep… pun fully intended) the hopes and dreams of any enterprise thinking they can turn their one-hit wonder business into an on-going, profitable concern. And I don’t think the 474MM soccer moms currently in the KDE database are potential Call of Duty players… so, hard to see the synergy.
Hello Zynga! I see you nodding your collective heads (those of you that are left in the building anyway.) Market realities hurt, don’t they?
The scary part, if you are an AB stockholder is that, hidden in the fine print of the agreement is that AB is relying on their line of credit with their bankers to the tune of $2.3BB – almost 40% of the deal is debt financed! Also scary – KDE’s Q2, 2015 key financials were down across the board, year-over-year (see results here.)
On the other hand, all of these traditional game publishers (my definition: the EA’s, Ubi’s and Activision’s of the world) are trying to set their sights on a day when their divorce decree from the platform holders will be finalized and their businesses will not be reliant on a third-party to succeed. There is a reason the Origin’s, Uplay’s (now “Ubisoft Club”), WBPlay’s, etc. exist and, no it is not (only) for the DRM (Digital Rights Management) that continues to be the bane of gamers’ existence. These companies are all trying to build their portals – anticipating a day when relationships with Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft will no longer be required, where platforms are agnostic and where they have a direct pipeline to consumers through their digital commerce sites.
While the other traditional game publishers have been dipping their proverbial toes in the imaginary water over the past few years, Activision has been reluctant to join the party (check out this article from gamesindustry.biz that appeared on their site over two years ago.) So, with a sudden change of heart and an appetite that could only be rivaled by the “Feed Me Seymour” plant in the “Little Shop of Horrors” (again… Millennials… look it up), Activision Bobby (Kotick – CEO) pulls the trigger and makes the big splash. The problem is; objects that create big splashes have a way of sinking like stones and isn’t the hit-driven AAA core gamer market risky enough? Who needs to add appealing to soccer moms – 99% [...]