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 [...]