Ataribox experiences technical issues, delaying Indiegogo launch

Atari, or the people currently responsible for the brand, has been forced to delay crowdfunding for their Ataribox console, citing a developmental delay

Atari, or the people currently responsible for the brand, has been forced to delay crowdfunding for their Ataribox console, citing a developmental delay.

The Ataribox is planned to be based on 'PC technology', and is an AMD processor with Radeon graphics and a Linux-based operating system. The machine is planned to play selected titles from Atari's history, which the new owners of the Atari brand have access to, but also functioning as a personal computer, which could in theory install third-party games and services like Steam.

This was unveiled in July, with the technology detailed in September, with plans for a Spring 2018 launch. However, it seems now that this is all scheduled to change as the run-up to Ataribox's Indiegogo campaign has now been officially paused.

While Atari didn't give a specific reason, they've attributed the delay to 'one key element' on their checklist that is holding things up. There's no word on when that'll get fixed, though, so fans looking to pick one up will need to cross their fingers and wait for more news.

The FCC votes to overturn U.S net neutrality protections

The FCC has voted 3-2 to overturn net neutrality, although many are still opposing the ruling. 

The US Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to overturn the 2015 'net neutrality' rule, which prohibits internet service providers (ISPs) for blocking, throttling or prioritising Internet traffic.

This was originally put in place in 2015 over fears that ISPs would start charging more money for certain services, meaning slower game downloads on online marketplaces if, say, Steam didn't pay ISPs for a premium service, or perhaps customers having to purchase a 'Gamer' bundle to get access.

The FCC voted to overturn the rule with a 3-2 majority, and it's particularly bad news for gamers as, in addition to the growing digital drift, gamers rely on high speed and bandwith to play games online successfully. If the rule is overturned, ISP's might start to be more predatory in monetising groups that have a need for high speed connections. Obviously, this is a negative.

In a statement, the FCC said: "The Federal Communications Commission today voted to restore the longstanding, bipartisan light-touch regulatory framework that has fostered rapid Internet growth, openness, and freedom for nearly 20 years."

"Following detailed legal and economic analysis, as well as extensive examination of comments from consumers and stakeholders, the Commission reversed the FCC's 2015 heavy-handed utility-style regulation of broadband Internet access service, which imposed substantial costs on the entire Internet ecosystem... The framework adopted by the Commission today will protect consumers at far less cost to investment than the prior rigid and wide-ranging utility rules. And restoring a favorable climate for network investment is key to closing the digital divide, spurring competition and innovation that benefits consumers."

The ACLU has pledged to fight the repeal, as has New York attorney general A.G. Schneiderman, in addition to many other state's attorney generals.

"Today's new rule would enable ISPs to charge consumers more to access sites like Facebook and Twitter and give them the leverage to degrade high quality of video streaming until and unless somebody pays them more money," Schneiderman said in a statement about the repeal.

"Even worse, today's vote would enable ISPs to favor certain viewpoints over others."

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet as we know it, spoke out in 2006 in support of net neutrality. It's basically his internet, so if he says it's a bad thing it's probably a bad thing.

A combined physical/digital chart for UK games is coming in 2019

For the first time, the UK will get a combined digital / physical chart in 2019

As the slide to digital becomes more and more prevalent, we'll finally be getting a chart combining physical and digital sales for the first time in 2019.

The download chart will be provided by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) in combination with data firm B2Boost. GamesIndustry.biz, who broke the story, said that news on a UK, and separate European download chart will be revealed early in the new year.

However, the big news is that in January 2019, this chart will include physical sales too, as the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) will be giving sales information on boxed games to ISFE. This means a combined chart for the first time and no more speculation, hopefully, when a sequel to a game sells less than its predecessor in the physical space.

Right now, ERA have an exclusivity deal with GfK who put together the physical charts and have done for the last 20 years. ERA will still be providing GfK with the data, but as of January 2019 that will no longer be exclusive, opening the way for this combined chart.

This will massively affect the PC market, which now sells barely any volume in physical copies, but does a roaring trade digitally due to a series of well established online marketplaces.

MCV has long campaigned for publishers to share their digital sales data, started the #digitalcounts campaign to try and raise awareness. The US has a combined physical and digital chart already, courtesy of NPD.

CEO Kim Bayley said in a statement on ERA's website:  “This is an innovative and exciting direction for games data to take. GfK has been the gold standard for physical games data and charts for more than two decades and we are delighted to confirm our relationship with them through to mid-2019. At the same time, we recognise that ISFE and B2Boost have captured digital data which our members are looking to analyse alongside the physical market. This twin track solution looks to be a win-win for all concerned.”

Private Division is a very smart move for Take-Two

Take-Two makes a big move into indie publishing, filling out its slate and complementing its more mainstream offerings

Last night, Take-Two launched a brand new publishing label, making its move into the world of premium indie publishing with Private Division. And it's a big move, with a day one lineup packed full of triple-A talent that has decided the grass is greener working for themselves on a smaller scale.  

It's an international lineup as well. Panache Digital Games in Montreal, The Outsiders in Stockholm, V1 Interactive from Seattle and finally California's Obsidian is arguably the jewel in the crown. Between them they have talent from Halo, Assassin's Creed, and Fallout of course. The move had been foreshadowed by its acquisition of Kerbal Space Program, by Mexico City's Squad back in May.

The new label will provide some arguably much-needed balance to Take-Two's publishing operation - which this year had a surfeit of releases as 2K launched only two major titles (compared to eight the year before) and Red Dead Redemption 2 was delayed to 2018.

"No one's ever going to tell the people in the studios that we've partnered with what a game should look like"

Michael Worosz, Take-Two / Private Division

The move into publishing externally-developed, without big licenses and IP rights, is a new one for Take-Two. Heading up the shift is Michael Worosz, head of corporate development & independent publishing at Take-Two. Speaking to GameInfomer he said.

“This is the thing I take from Strauss Zelnick's [Take-Two's CEO] playbook. He's been a career entertainment executive who has worked in Hollywood, music, and now video games …. What that means practically is no one on the Take-Two management team will ever opine on how a game should look, feel, or play. No one's ever going to tell the people in the studios that we've partnered with what a game should look like. That's for the team on the ground working on that game every day.”

That sense of maintaining independent artistic direction is strongly felt throughout the comments of the developers as well. And Worosz accepts that things don't always got to plan.

“Video games are literally at the point where art meets science, right?” Worosz said. “But very few things go according to a predefined, scientific plan, especially in terms of video game production. Things are going to move around and we're going to make sure that each game has its own moment in the sun.”

Juggling a publishing schedule with a collection of indies is never going to be easy, and even less so if a lot of them are pretty big names with some potentially massive releases.

That said, it's certainly a smart move for Take-Two, moving into a burgeoning sector, which has been more open to publisher deals since Kickstarter lost its sheen. With Private Division it can fill out its release schedule, and fill it out with games that are entirely different from its own fare, so there's little chance of competing for its own consumers.

TIGA: Video games need a sensible Brexit

Dr Richard Wilson discusses the results of TIGA's recent survey on Brexit

Dr Richard Wilson is CEO of TIGA, the award-winning trade association representing the UK video games industry. At TIGA, Richard has successfully campaigned for the introduction of Video Games Tax Relief and introduced an accreditation system for university games courses.


TIGA’s recent business survey has underlined the need for a sensible Brexit. Our survey found that almost a third (29 per cent) of video games developers are worried about Brexit, primarily due to their concerns about their ability to recruit the right talent. Meanwhile, uncertainty is making private investors more cautious and the future of EU public funding schemes is up in the air. The latest breakthrough in negotiations is a welcome development, but there are big decisions that need to be made in the next phase of talks.

Currently, the UK video games industry is a world leader. In 2016, the industry contributed £1.2 billion to the UK economy and we want to build on this success. Developments in artificial intelligence and virtual reality could bring about the next big revolution in video games. We want to see the UK video games industry in the best possible position to benefit from these changes.                                

In light of our industry’s ambitions, it is concerning that almost a third of developers already feel that their business has suffered due to the Brexit process. Respondents said that they have found it more difficult to recruit staff from overseas, while some employers are seeing staff returning to the continent.

The ability to recruit the right talent is vital for the video games industry. EU workers currently make up 15 per cent of the UK games industry, while 5 per cent come from countries outside the EU. In order to compete on a global level, we need to recruit top global talent. While we welcome the Government’s recent decision to expand the number of Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) Visas, it must not become harder to recruit workers from the EU or EEA. Small businesses in particular value the ability to recruit EU and EEA nationals with minimal cost and without red tape.  Education and upskilling homegrown talent is undoubtedly important, but foreign talent will remain an important part of the industry’s skills mix for the foreseeable future.

"As well as delivering certainty through an orderly exit process, the Government must replace or continue to participate in funding streams"

Developers also expressed concerns about a lack of certainty, which has impacted investment decisions. Some private investors are less willing to invest during periods of uncertainty. Meanwhile, the future of EU funding programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Creative Europe are unclear. Both programmes provide useful funding for developers and have led to the release of critically acclaimed UK games. As well as delivering certainty through an orderly exit process, the Government must replace or continue to participate in funding streams.

To some extent, the survey did indicate a mixed picture. 11 per cent of businesses reported that the Brexit process was having a positive impact, predominately due to the drop in the value of Sterling since the EU referendum. The devaluation has helped businesses become more price competitive, particularly those with heavy exposure to European and North American markets.  But a devaluation in Sterling is not going to help the industry succeed in the long-term. Price competitiveness is just one part of a bigger picture that allows the UK video games industry to compete globally.

We welcome the agreement between the UK and EU on citizens’ rights, the Northern Ireland border, and the financial settlement. But as talks turn to a future relationship, big decisions have to be made. The single most important priority for the UK video games industry in the current Brexit negotiations is that we have access to highly-skilled employees from the EU and EEA. A sensible Brexit deal would also provide certainty around public and private investment that is currently available to developers. The UK video games industry is a world leader and we want to maintain and build on this position.

Drop the deck: DropMix shows collectible cards aren’t just for gamers

Collectible card games have a long history, but whether its Magic or Pokémon, they’ve always been an all-consuming passion, rather than a casual drop-in. 

While DropMix is a game, and it does have collectible cards which are sold in packs, the similarities end there. Instead Hasbro and Harmonix have created an NFC card-driven DJ game that lets anyone play on the wheels of steel.

We talk to Jonathan Mintz, creative lead for DropMix at Harmonix about the new game, how it works, and why consumers should be excited.

What is DropMix – how do you play it?

DropMix is a dynamic and fast-paced music-mixing game. Players blend hit songs – each featured on a DropMix card – from award-winning artists to create mind-blowing mixes. Get together and
face-off with friends to master the mix, with no music-makingskills required.

DropMix cards are embedded with Near-Field Communication (NFC) chips, the same technology that enables digital wallets in smartphones like Apple Pay or Android Pay. When the NFC chips interact with the electronic DropMix board, the data is beamed to the player’s smartphone or tablet app via Bluetooth. The software in the DropMix app on the player’s smartphone or tablet then compiles the data into a seamless one-of-a-kind music mix. If you create an amazing-sounding mix, you can save it to – and share it from – the app. 

Place a card on the DropMix board to add its music to the mix. You can put down and pick up cards at will and the music mix will update on the fly. You can replace tracks in the mix by picking up cards from the board and putting down a new card. The app drives gameplay, with a range of exciting game modes to play – Clash, Freestyle and Party.

Do you need a mobile device as well then?

Yes. The DropMix app is available for iOS and Android, and will run on the majority of smartphones and tablets. You can connect your device to a Bluetooth speaker to pump up the volume.

How many music tracks are there?

There will be more than 300 DropMix cards featuring hit songs from popular artists in the 2017 collection. From these, players can create millions of possible mixes.

How did the idea come about?

Harmonix invented the modern music gaming genre and we’re always looking for new ways to innovate in the space. We saw an opportunity in the trend of music mixing – bringing unexpected songs and artists together in ever-changing ways. 

It’s never been done before as a game. There are lots of overly complex DJ style apps but never a game like this. Together we decided to combine Hasbro’s expertise in digital and physical integration with Harmonix’s expertise in music gaming. 

From that DropMix was born and it’s been a great partnership. We collaborate on everything from development decisions to music selections and game rules to physical design.

Did all the tracks have to be specially reworked for the game?

The tracks don’t need to be ‘reworked’ but, as in Rock Band, there’s a decent amount of hand authoring that needs to be done to turn music into gameplay. For DropMix this includes selecting and editing which parts to use for specific cards, making sure they work at all of our allowable tempos and in all of our allowable keys, plus a few other nerdy odds and ends.

How do consumers get additional tracks?

DropMix comes with a Starter Set of 60 cards, with further cards available separately in Playlist and Discover Packs, which include 16 and five cards respectively.

Who is it aimed at?

Music lovers of all ages, anyone who’s ever dreamed of being a superstar DJ, anyone who wants a fun party game that also provides the soundtrack! 

How did you decide on the art style?

We commissioned numerous artists to develop the amazing art featured throughout the DropMix Cards, representing a variety of backgrounds, countries and styles. Readers can learn more about some of our featured artists on the @DropMix Instagram channel.

Where would you like to take DropMix next?

We are thrilled about the response to the DropMix game this year, and we have some exciting new additions coming in 2018. 

To order DropMix contact Exertis on 01279 822800

Getting ready for Christmas can be tough - so we’ve moved the MCV Awards deadline!

You cried out in seasonal angst, and we listened, the awards deadline is now on the 8th of January

OK, OK, we admit we were being a tad ambitious when setting the original deadline for the MCV Awards entries. After receiving requests from many of you we have now decided to give you until Monday 8th January 2018 to complete your winning entry. Please note there will be no further extensions after this date!

And if you haven't yet considered entering the MCV Awards 2018 then there's still lots of time to get the recognition your team deserves.

The awards remain free-to-enter for all qualifying teams and businesses, and they are firmly established as the unrivalled badge of excellence for the games sector. Presented at a stylish ceremony with over 600 of the industry’s leading figures in attendance, they celebrate the achievements of the industry’s finest teams and individuals

And there’s a brand new (easier) entry process...

The MCV Awards are changing for the better. This year, in consultation with the industry, we’ve redesigned the categories, criteria, entry system and judging process to enable us to be more transparent and open about the way things are done, so the industry can trust that the MCV Awards really are the mark of business excellence in video games. That starts with clearer criteria for your entry and easy to use Word documents so you can get internal sign off for your entries.

The entry process for the awards is your opportunity to put forward your team's best work for the year and highlight your company to the industry! This is your chance to shout about your organisation, and get recognition and reward from your peers.

For more details, to see the new categories, and to start the entry process, head to the MCV Awards.

Being Fork Parker - Devolver Digital’s marketing masterstroke

MCV has a chat with Devolver Digital co-founders Graeme Struthers and Harry Miller about the firm’s recent success stories, the evolution of its strategy and its infamous imaginary CFO

MCV has a chat with Devolver Digital co-founders Graeme Struthers and Harry Miller about the firm’s recent success stories, the evolution of its strategy and its infamous imaginary CFO

This year has been ridiculously busy and ridiculously successful for Devolver Digital. Serious Sam VR titles, Strafe, Gorn, Absolver, Ruiner, The Talos Principles, High Hell, Reigns: Her Majesty, Stories Untold… All these games (and more) released this year, winning accolades and collecting critical acclaim.

Not content with being universally praised, most of these indie gems were also big commercial successes, starting with martial arts title Absolver. The Sloclap-developed game became Devolver’s biggest ever launch back in August and shifted 250,000 copies in under a month, making it Devolver’s fastest selling title.

The indie publisher’s partnership with Sloclap finds its roots as far back as 2015 when the studio, founded by former Ubisoft Paris employees, had just started working on the title.

“We saw some clips of Absolver two years ago and we reached out to [creative director] Pierre Tarno as he was going to be in London. So myself and [Devolver producer] Andrew Parsons went to meet him to see a demo of the game,” Devolver’s co-founder Graeme Struthers recalls. “We really liked what we were seeing, the art style is pretty different to everything else we’ve seen. And then we introduced Pierre to [Devolver’s co-founder] Harry Miller because it was a big project, bigger than the kind of things we often do, to see what we could bring together.”

"You could play it and it was fun, unique, great art. Easy choice really"

Needless to say Devolver was right about the potential of the project and its scale. Miller remembers Absolver being an absolute no-brainer:  “[Sloclap] made it easy on us because the quality was already there. You could play it and it was fun, unique, great art. Easy choice really.”

Absolver even got a limited physical release, which remains unusual for Devolver – the publisher has ‘Digital’ in its name after all. There were precisely 3,250 physical collector’s editions per platform up for grabs, and that brief incursion into physical releases worked very well, Struthers tells us:

“We looked at the market, we looked at what other companies were doing and what had been going on in our space for the past five to six years and the idea of doing limited runs was very appealing because the hardcore fans are interested. It’s worked really well, it’s been a big success.”

Another area in which Devolver has seen success this year is with its films division, which released a Call of Duty documentary a few weeks ago (simply called CODumentary) looking back at the evolution of the hit franchise.

“Devolver Films has released a lot of movies, about 70-ish, and I think it’s safe to say the projects that have done the best have had a game angle, and obviously Call of Duty fits nicely into that,” Struthers says. “Those kind of projects have been fantastic on Steam so obviously we’re interested in that type of content.”

NEW CHALLENGES

The aforementioned success stories are only the tip of the iceberg, as Devolver has been experiencing a massive boom in the past few years, which can be traced back to the successful launch of Hotline Miami in 2012.

“Since we started the company, every year has been bigger,” Struthers says, with Miller adding: “This year we had kind of a slow start, with fewer games in the first six months. Next year is going to be very big for us.”

Among the titles lined-up for next year, Struthers mentions Onebitbeyond’s The Swords of Ditto and Fourattic’s Crossing Souls, both of which have already generated an incredible buzz from their various preview events.

Devolver’s distinctive marketing strategy also has a lot to do with its titles being visible before they even launch. From the uncanny (and unforgettable) E3 ’conference’ this year to its fictional CFO Fork Parker or its press releases mocking the standards of the sector, the indie label has crafted a unique approach to PR.

“PR is a very important part of Devolver, perhaps the most important part of marketing for us,” Miller readily confirms. 

Struthers continues: “The PR guys we work with and the big variety of games that we have – and this is not me making a lazy cheap shot against other companies – means they’re not really involved in the sequel machine, they’re getting fairly interested in the new games. 

“The Devolver brand is lifted by all those individual games and we get the benefit of all of that. And when you’ve got Fork Parker in your life, you can be fairly irreverent about the industry you’re in.”

Devolver being indeed the irreverent company that we know, it makes it particularly difficult to have a serious look into the publisher’s strategy. So naturally, when we ask Struthers to tell us a bit more about the evolution of Devolver’s approach to publishing, he answers in a laugh: “You can’t even say that we had a strategy. So we still don’t really have one.”

"And when you’ve got Fork Parker in your life, you can be fairly irreverent about the industry you’re in"

He adds, more seriously: “I think we’ve got a lot of strong development partners that we’ve worked with for many years. So obviously it works for us and it works for them. We’ve added a few new teams [this year], Sloclap with Absolver, Raikon with Ruiner, and we hope it’ll lead to further partnerships. When we get together with other people, we like a good dynamic, a good relationship and we want to keep working together.”

Miller adds: “We look for opportunities. There’s no set genre we search for, if there’s a game that we think is unique and should be brought to the public then we go for it.”

However, if the core strategy hasn’t changed much since Devolver’s inception, the publisher has been looking more and more at ‘emerging’ markets.

“One thing that has been happening in the last three or four years is we’ve been trying to understand markets like, say, Russia, Japan, Korea and China – we’ve put a lot of effort into China in the last year,” Struthers explains. 

“That’s not just localising, but also what kind of games may have appeal, how you present those games… Media varies hugely in some countries compared to other countries, so I think that’s probably the biggest change for us in the past four to five years. 

“We’ll still make probably about eight to ten games in a year, sometimes a few more, but we’ve been focusing much more on China, how can we make those games visible in China. Same in Brazil, same in Korea. That’s a nice, interesting challenge.”

Star Citizen developer denies all charges in multi-pronged Crytek legal assault

Legal action alleges numerous details of broken promises and compromised deals

Crytek last night launched a legal attack against Star Citizen developer CIG, and its parent company RSI, which is helmed by Chris Roberts. Saying the company 'utterly failed to follow through on those promises.' in reference to multiple alleged complaints.

The dcoument is lengthy and detailed, including alleged breach of contract and copyright infringement and even suggests that negotiations were compromised by the shifting loyalties of employees that then moved from Crytek to RSI.

Crytek claims that the licensing agreement was 'extensively negotiated', on behalf of CIG by co-founders, Ortwin Freyermuth. However, it claims that Freyermuth had also previously represented Crytek in similar negotiations and 'had confidential information about Crytek's licensing practices that would unfairly advantage [CIG]. And furthermore, Carl Jones, who negotiated for Crytek would later leave the company for, of course, CIG.

"The GLA contained a critical promise from Defendants that they would not develop the Star Citizen video game using any other video game engines."

Other alleged issues include whether Star Citizen fulfilled its commitments to Crytek in terms of promoting the engine in-game; whether Star Citizen and its single-player campaign Squadron 42 are one game or two seperate titles. And all that is further confused by the game later moving to Amazon's Lumberyard platform, itself a spin-off of CryEngine.

As the complaint alleges: 'The GLA contained a critical promise from Defendants that they would not develop the Star Citizen video game using any other video game engines.'

In short, expect this one to run and run. While game developers across the world nervously check their own legal agreements for development platforms and other middleware.

CIG's response to the complaint is understandably short and to the point. David Swofford at CIG sent MCV the following statement:

"We are aware of the Crytek complaint having been filed in the US District Court. CIG hasn’t used the CryEngine for quite some time since we switched to Amazon’s Lumberyard. This is a meritless lawsuit that we will defend vigorously against, including recovering from Crytek any costs incurred in this matter."

Picking further through the complaint from Crytek, here are the key points in the document.

Crytek claims to be a significant factor in Star Citizen's success: 'Crytek invested significant time and expense in creating impressive demonstrations and proofs-of-concept … as a direct result of Crytek's efforts, the crowdfunding campaign for Star Citizen was a monumental success, raising over 150 million dollars.'

That CIG promised to 'use the CryEngine game development platform exclusively and to promote that platform within the video game, (ii) to collaborate with Crytek on CryEngine development, and (iii) to take a number of steps to ensure that Crytek's intellectual property was protected.'

Moving onto the two games or one point it says 'Defendants to use CryEngine for the development of only one video game.' And continues: 'On February 5, 2016, Crytek notified Defendants that their plan to distribute Squadron 42 as a standalone game was not covered by the GLA's license,  because the GLA did not grant Defendants a license to embed CryEngine in any game other than Star Citizen.'

For more on the ongoing development of the epic space title read our interview with Chris Roberts from CIG.

PUBG’s Brendan Greene speaks out over copycat games

Greene: "I want other developers to put their own spin on the genre... not just lift things from our game."

In an interview with the BBC, Brendan Greene claimed that elements of battle royale juggernaut PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds have been ripped off by other titles.

Greene says in the interview:  "I want other developers to put their own spin on the genre... not just lift things from our game."

Greene claims he wants developers to contribute new ideas and take bold risks if they're choosing to emulate Battlegrounds, and has claimed: "If it's just copycats down the line, then the genre doesn't grow and people get bored."

Each copied game, to Greene, is a missed opportunity to do something clever or subvert the expectations placed on a game by its genre.

Greene is undoubtedly the father of the battle royale genre, having worked on the idea originally as a mod for popular mod DayZ. Then, Greene made the game mode for Arma 3, before being hauled in to work on H1Z1's battle royale mode, and then finally working as the public face of PUBG.

The battle royale genre is about dropping a chunk of survivors onto an island and letting them fight to the death, scavenging or crafting their gear, armour and other items along the way. There's a slight irony to the fact that the battle royale genre takes both name and concept from the movie Battle Royale, which features a couple of classes of students fighting to the death.

The genre has been chugging along slowly, but PUBG's massive success has seen multiple copycats pop up, and several games claiming inspiration too. Earlier this year, developers Bluehole traded harsh words with Epic Games over the inclusion of a battle royale mode for newly released Fortnite: Fortnite Battle Royale now boasts over 30m players.

Greene's comments tie into a bigger concern, with Greene talking about how little protection a games intellectual property has. He references the movie business: "Look at movies, Armageddon came out then 20 other comet disaster films came soon after."

For Greene, the industry needs to be more active in helping to protect developers with great ideas but a lack of resources to fund development or marketing.

Kids as young as 11 are getting into skin gambling, says UK Gambling Committee

It seems the skin gambling economy is being normalised, and safeguards to keep kids away aren't working

The UK Gambling Committee's end of year report on Young People and Gambling has suggested that 45 per cent of kids between the ages of 11-16 know about skin gambling, while 11 per cent say they've placed bets with in-game items.

Skin gambling is a catch-all term to describe several different sorts of gambling that involve using digital items, often cosmetics, as wagers in several games of chance. This can involve using skins to bet on the outcome of big matches, or just throwing your skin into the pot on the spin of a wheel to try and take home a public pot made of your item and the items of several other players.

That 11 per cent of players between 11-16 have used these sites paints a grim picture for the practice, which is only supposed to be used by users that are 18 or over in the United Kingdom. The figure icreases with age, so it's actually just 3 per cent of 11 year olds, increasing to 14 per cent in 14,15 and 16 year olds.

While the loot box issue is a thorny one, the ability for many skin gamblers, often using CS:GO skins, to 'cash out' for real money using Steam's marketplace, makes it gambling in the sense that there's a gamble involved followed by a real world payout.

Previously, the Gambling Commission has taken action against those running unlicensed betting sites, earlier this year successfully prosecuting the owners of the FUT Galaxy website, allowing players to gamble on real-life football matches using Fifa 17's virtual currency. Youtuber Craig 'Nepenthez' Douglas and Dylan Rigby, the site's owners, copped a £255,000 fine.

"The Gambling Commission takes the view that the ability to convert in-game items to cash, or to trade them (for other items of value) means they attain a real-world value and become articles of money or money’s worth. Where gambling facilities are offered to British consumers, including with the use of in-game items that can be converted into cash or traded (for items of value), a gambling license is required," says the report.

"Tackling operators making gambling facilities available to children is one of the Gambling Commission’s priorities."

In a statement to the BBC, Gambling Commision chief executive Sarah Harrison told the BBC: "Because of these unlicensed skin betting sites, the safeguards that exist are not being applied and we're seeing examples of really young people, 11 and 12-year-olds, who are getting involved in skin betting, not realizing that it's gambling."  

ONS report claims video games are key part of UK Inflation hike

Report from the ONS suggests that the consumer price index has suggested video games are big part of 3.1% CPI hike 

Video games are a key part in the latest rise for UK inflation, according to a report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The figures released by the ONS say that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has hiked 3.1% in the twelve month period ending in November 2017 and is the highest rise in the CPI since March 2012.

The report suggests that air fares are the biggest contributor, but also points the finger at rising prices for video games, unusual as video games as a boxed product haven't risen too far in the last few years. A new game costs somewhere in the region of £40-£50 pounds, and has done for the last several years.

"The largest upward contribution to change in both the CPIH and CPI rates came from air fares which fell between October and November but by less than a year ago," said the report. "Rising prices for a range of recreational and cultural goods and services, most notably computer games, also had an upward effect."

It seems the rise in price between October and November, prime video game release territory, was more dramatic than in 2016. The spike is no doubt part of the stellar release schedule seen this year, but Black Friday confuses things, dropping the prices of even brand new games by £20-£30 for the annual shopathon.

As a result, the ONS's claims are a little confusing. This could be in regards to DLC or microtransactions, but that's not what the report has claimed.

Games have long been claimed, inside the industry, as inflation-proof, something that has led to alternate monetisation strategies as companies try to find a way to survive on a £50 product as development, marketing and production costs all increase. Any publisher that has tried to increase the price significantly has seen a significant amount of bad PR, including Paradox and EA.

Regardless, it could see consumers buy less video games anyway, as the CPI spike means they are worse off and fighting increased prices on all sides.

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Nintendo announces 10m sales for the Switch

Surprising success for the Switch caps off strong year for Nintendo

Nintendo has announced 10m sales for the Switch game console, just nine months after the hybrid consoles worldwide launch.

It caps off a remarkably strong year for all things Ninty, and in October the company announced that the Switch had caused a 175 per cent sales growth for the six months ending on September 30, with net sales of $3.29b during that period up on last years figure of $1.2b.

Nintendo originally estimated that they would sell 10m Switch consoles within the first year for the console, however it's now beaten that with several months to go.

Nintendo of Europe President Satoru Shibata said in a statement: "We are thrilled that fans all across Europe and around the world are enjoying the gameplay experiences that only Nintendo Switch can offer, whether it be the newest adventures with Super Mario and Link, or unique games such as 1-2-Switch, where players look at each other and not the screen."

Big successes for the year have included Mario Odyssey, Zelda: Breath of the Wild and even a Mario Kart 8 re-release, backed with an increasingly strong line-up of Indie titles. Next year sees Bayonetta, Devil May Cry and other games that aren't beloved hack and slash titles, like Kirby, Yoshi and hopefully that Smash Bros release I've been hoping for since the Switch first released.

Stephane Gambetta talks Esports BAR

MCV is a media partner for Esports BAR, coming to Cannes on February 12-14. We talk to Stephane Gambetta, Reed Midem's esports development director, about what it can offer. 

Esports BAR is coming to Cannes on February 12-14, bringing big name speakers to the french resort town for one of esports biggest business to business events. 

MCV is proud to be a media partner, and in the first of a series of articles we're speaking to Stephane Gambetta, Reed Midem's esports development director and a driving force behind Esports BAR. 

Reed Midem is a subsidiary of Reed Exhibitions that focuses on real estate and entertainment trade shows, but last year the event organiser took aim at competitive games with its inaugural Esports BAR event in Cannes, which it followed up with Esports Bar Miami in September. 

But why does a real estate and entertainment trade show company want to position itself in the esports industry and how did this come about? 

"For the past three years I have been working in new development for the entertainment division," says Gambetta. "Mostly in TV, developing our brands and our events in different regions of the world. We launched a TV event in Latin America and we're doing one in China. In my development role, I came across esports, while discussing with some TV clients that were getting into esports such as NBC and others that were developing esports content."

"So I started digging a little and saw that it's a very interesting sector with a lot of endemic companies and players that have been growing the esports industry for many years, but many non-endemic players - media and brands that were interested in getting into esports — were not necessarily sure of how to do that, who to talk to and so we thought: 'This is exactly what we do in other industries' - creating the most effective platforms for people to do business, to meet each other, to build partnerships."

Gambetta admits that Reed Midem didn't really have experience with esports, but they were willing to learn. Gambetta says that while Reed Midem understands how to create a "really effective international platform" for an industry, they'd need to pair up with people who had the esports expertise they thought was necessary to build a strong event. 

"Before our first event last year, we built a team of people who were really into esports. On this team, we have Stuart Saw from Twitch, Mike Sepso from Activision Blizzard, Todd Sitrin from Electronic Arts. Recently, we've announced Christina Alejandre from Eleague will help us also. We built this  team of people right at the start to advise us on the format of what we should do in terms of events and what people we should bring to the table to really build an effective event for everybody." 

For Gambetta personally, esports is exciting because of how fast it's developing. "At this stage there are no real business rules set to how it will evolve. Everything is possible. That's a good stage to be in."

"It's a fascinating sector because it engages the young generation all around the world. In the team we all know kids who are deeply into esports. It's great to be in an industry that talks so much to the younger generation. We began convinced that this sector can be really a major entertainment sector. Now I'm sure that esports is here to stay, and I'm totally engaged in helping it to grow as big as it can be." 

Describing the first event as a success, and a learning experience, Gambetta mentioned that the biggest surprise on running the first Esports BAR event was how much attendees said an event like this was needed in the esports sector. "To be honest, it was a test of whether we could provide something meaningful for the sector. Will people really come to the event to do business, will they leave the event having met some interesting people and had some interesting conversations?" 

The answer was a resounding yes, according to the data. Last year's events in Cannes and Miami were limited to 100 invited attendees, which returned a 96 per cent satisfaction rate on both events. 

"There is a need for non-endemic and endemic players to meet and that we can really fulfil this need. The schedule for the first two events was one-to-one meetings - it's a format that proved very efficient because when you arrive at the event you know exactly who you will meet during the course of the pre-scheduled meetings lasting 30 minutes. 

"It's a very effective format where you know you will accomplish something and also it's very hassle free in terms of the organisation. You sign up for the event and we take care of the rest. This we want to continue. Also, creating alongside those one-to-one meetings, a forum for other segments based on an offer that is both a learning experience and a networking experience. What we have learnt from the first two events is that beyond the core segments that we were targeting, mostly dealing with esports rights: sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting rights, we focused a lot on that, but there are a lot of needs beyond that and a lot of segments interested in esports beyond that. We are creating this forum of content and offer alongside the one-to-one meetings to fulfil that."  

For companies interested in esports but not embedded in the scene, Esports BAR is aiming to provide "a learning experience." 

"We want to be very tactical," says Gambetta. "It's not 'let's look at esports, it's an interesting sector', but instead it's really focused on how to - if you're a brand - associate yourself with esports, what works, what doesn't work, and the latest experiences that prove to be efficient. 

"To accompany our content and networking sessions, we have some mentors on top of the content who are available on site to answer questions and point to the right people businesses can talk to to understand what their role in esports."

"We want to really build a really practical, effective experience so even if you don't know what you want to do yet, you will leave Esports BAR with a better understanding of what you can do." 

Esports BAR takes place in Cannes on February 12- 14 February. You can get tickets here. 
 

Milestone earnings triple for 2017 as studio commits to Unreal Engine

On the back of great 2017 results, we talk to Italian driving specialist about its plans for 2018

Milestone today reported excellent 2017 results, with a fifth consecutive year of growth and a cumulative 140 per cent rise in revenue over the last five years to €28.6. While net income is up 315 per cent year-on-year to €7.1m. “We’re thrilled with how 2017 has panned out,” commented Virgil Bixio, administrator at Milestone.

“One of the factors behind what has proved to be such a positive year is the improvement in our company's production capacity. As well as this, we’ve also managed to make major inroads into the US - sales are up over there - and we’ve adapted our business to recognise the  increasing importance of the digital computing sector. It’s all combined to create the perfect storm for Milestone this year.”

MCV then talked to Luisa Bixio Bordonaro, VP at Milestone about what next year holds for the company, and the areas it's targeting for continued growth next year?

"Milestone is currently focusing on strengthening its portfolio whilst also expanding its distribution at worldwide level, diversifying the line-up to meet the needs of gamers from outside Europe as well as our existing base within it."

"We have already started to work in this direction, with Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame, and Gravel, our new IP designed to fill a gap currently present in the international market, offering an accessible and user-friendly 4-wheel driving model."

"We’re very happy with the results we’ve achieved so far with Epic’s engine"

Luisa Bixio Bordonaro, Milestone

Gravel is a particularly intriguing move for the company, as it's a homegrown IP for a firm that has worked largely on licensed product to date, we wonder about the differences between the two?

"Milestone’s history has always been tied up together with licensed video games. Licensed products like MotoGP and MXGP - The Official Videogame are now established and successful franchises, and this year we’ve added also the new partnership with Feld Motor Sports for another licensed game: Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame.

"Alongside licensed video games, we are also working on own proprietary IP, like Ride and the new Gravel. We usually split the games we’re working on between these two categories because working on licensed video games is very different from working on proprietary IPs like Ride and Gravel, both in terms of design development and marketing activity."

Milestone was very vocal about its shift to Unreal Engine, which isn't well known for powering pure driving experiences, and so we're curious about how that's gone.

"Adopting Unreal Engine marked a shift for us in terms of technological standards, and it has had a big impact on all areas of production. Milestone’s developers have been able to adapt Unreal’s potential to fit our games, and we’re very happy with the results we’ve achieved so far with Epic’s engine. We are planning to use Unreal engine for all our of our titles in the years ahead, always investing more in the quality of our titles."

Multiple studios are working on 2000AD games, say Rebellion

Expect 2000AD game announcements next year, Rebellion say

Earlier this year, Rebellion opened the door to developers and publishers to pitch a 2000AD game to the studio, in the aim of getting more games based on the publishers iconic characters out into the world.

In an interview with PCGN, Rebellion has revealed that the company has made multiple deals with studios looking to use the 2000AD library of characters.

Nothing specific is noted in the article, but Jason Kingsley has hinted that we'll see public announcements coming in 2018, and that Rebellion themselves currently have no concrete plans to release any 2000AD plans themselves.

While they can't talk about any specific games licensed in the agreement, they have talked about a Judge Dredd card game in the works from Osprey Entertainment. The game will loosely be based on Dredd's ventures into the Cursed Earth, although it's unlikely to feature the return of the fast food wars.

“I wanted to do lots of games with 2000 AD characters but we didn't have time and money,” Kingsley says to PCGN.  

“As time was going on, lots of people were asking, ‘Why aren't you?’ And I would say ‘Well, we haven't got the time’. So I thought this was ridiculous, literally it's been 17 years and there’s been about three, four games out - that's not good enough."

He spoke to MCV's own Seth Barton about his licensing plans earlier in the year, if you're into that. 

New Zealand Department for Internal Affairs rules loot boxes are not gambling

New Zealand has ruled on loot boxes as the furore continues 

New Zealand's Department for Internal Affairs has ruled that loot boxes don't constitute gambling.

Gamasutra reached out to the New Zealand agency, and received an email in response from the department's licensing compliance manager Trish Millward. "While the payment of money for a loot box with the contents of which are determined by chance many appear to be gambling," writes Millward, "the department is of the view that loot boxes to not meet the legal definition of gambling."

Millward mentions that will this is the department's official stance, it will "continue to follow the international discussion around loot boxes." However, Millward mentions that it's not illegal for New Zealanders to gamble with overseas providers, making it unsure what they would be able to do even if they ruled that it was gambling, as very few video game companies call New Zealand home.

It's unsure whether this will pour metaphorical gasoline on the flames of the loot box debate, but after gamers around the world praise Belgium for their denouncement of loot boxes, it's hard to know what will happen next. However, things continue to get increasingly awkward for developers and publishers, who find themselves in the ironic position of paying a lot of money and being left unsure of exactly what they'll receive.

Physical games sales rankings to date 2017 - week one, lifetime and ratios

Want to know the biggest selling physical games this year - number three will shock you wink

We had a quick look through the sales data to date this year, and while we can't reveal exact figures we can compile a couple of quick lists for you to see how the race is shaping up for the biggest selling new titles (sorry GTA) of 2017.

First up is a list of the ten biggest week one launches of 2017 to date. These are physical units, as that's the data we have, so they don't tell the whole story (unless you're in physical retail of course), but the list shows rough levels of consumer enthusiasm for the launch.

  1. FIFA 18
  2. Call Of Duty: WWII
  3. Destiny 2
  4. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands
  5. Star Wars Battlefront II
  6. Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy
  7. Horizon Zero Dawn
  8. Assassin's Creed Origins
  9. Mass Effect: Andromeda
  10. Super Mario Odyssey

Closely bunched, but just outside the cut, were Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, Gran Turismo: Sport and Middle-earth: Shadow Of War.

So how then did those launches pan out into lifetime sales. We can only track sales-to-date while they're in the Top 40. Although titles falling out the bottom are usually on pretty small weekly numbers. For sales within the Top 40 we can rank the biggest newly-release titles of the year as so (up to 9th December, physical, units):

  1. FIFA 18
  2. Call Of Duty: WWII
  3. Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy
  4. Assassin's Creed Origins
  5. Destiny 2
  6. Gran Turismo: Sport
  7. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands
  8. Horizon Zero Dawn
  9. Star Wars Battlefront II
  10. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

The biggest surprise here is how well Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy has performed over the months since its launch, putting in solid numbers week in and week out - so if you have a retro gaming IP on your books then get on with that remaster quick! Of course it's cheaper to buy than most titles here but it's still a great performance.

Horizon Zero Dawn is the only entirely fresh new IP in the Top 10 and a platform exclusive to boot, Sony must be very happy, and it'll get another boost when the Complete Edition launches next week.

Ghost Recon Wildlands, though it dropped down the rankings to date, has made a notable comeback after years without a title being released. Also notable is Gran Turismo: Sport which saw a big nitro boost of sales as part of Black Friday PS4 and PS VR bundles.

Which brings us onto launch to lifetime sales multiples. Here's a top 10 again but ranked based on how many more times copies were sold lifetime (in the Top 40 again) than in week one. Now this obviously favours games that came out earlier in the year, though not as much as you'd think.

  1. Gran Turismo: Sport
  2. Assassin's Creed Origins
  3. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild
  4. Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy
  5. Super Mario Odyssey
  6. Call Of Duty: WWII
  7. Horizon Zero Dawn
  8. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
  9. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands
  10. Star Wars Battlefront II

Gran Turismo is high on this list as it sold so many copies bundled on Black Friday. Then we get games that have sold very well post-release, likely due to excellent word-of-mouth and reviews, such as Assassin's Creed: Origins and the Switch titles. Crash Bandicoot, as we discussed above, has been a long-term seller, while the likes of Wildlands and Battlefront II have comparatively struggled to attract new buyers in the longer term. 

Anyhow, it's something to chew over while we await the official reckoning for 2017, which will come early next year.

All data from GfK, rankings correct as of 9th of December.

Sega Europe chief departs after four months ‘by mutual agreement’

Chris Bergstresser, President and COO, will be covered in the interim by Tatsuyki Miyazaki

Sega today announced the departure of its top European-based executive Chris Bergstresser, who held the roles of President and COO. He only joined the company back in August, speaking of a roadmap that was planned as far as 2020, so his departure after just a few months looks to be something of a setback for the firm.

Bergstesser has left the firm 'by mutual agreement' and a replacement is currently being sought. In the meantime Tatsuyuki Miyazaki will step in. Miyazaki is already CEO of Sega West (covering both the US and European operations) but is based in Japan.

However, there's still a highly-experienced group of executives in the UK, with a Sega statement saying that Miyazaki would be assisted by "Executive Vice President of Publishing, John Clark, Executive Vice President of Studios, Tim Heaton, and CFO, John Ward."

That team will run the Sega Europe HQ in West London as well as the five studios that sit under its remit: Sports Interactive, Hardlight, Creative Assembly, Relic Entertainment and Amplitude Studios.

Previously, Bergstresser worked as an investment executive and board advisor for several entertainment companies, and has spent over 25 years within the video games industry. He was also EVP and board director for Miniclip and SVP of publishing and online entertainment for Atari.

Miyazaki commented: “On behalf of the whole business, I would like to thank Chris for his hard work, integrity and his professionalism during his time at the helm of SEGA’s European operation. We wish him all the best for the future. I am looking forward to taking on the temporary role of COO and President as the business continues to evolve and grow. It’s an exciting time for SEGA Europe and working with the talented team here, I am confident that its future remains as bright as ever.”

For more on Sega Europe's strategy, read our interview with John Clark.

UK Sales top 5 analysis: Call of Duty soldiers into a snowy December

Call of Duty holds the line at No.1 but there's more interest further down the top five

Another week, another No. 1 spot for Call of Duty. And how far the franchise has come from last year's effort. It received a huge sales boost around Black Friday, by appearing in many of the most-attractive PS4 bundles, and has held its ground well ever since - with impressive week-on-week dips of around 40 per cent over the last two weeks.

All that now puts it more than 50% up, in total physical sales, on where its predecessor stood at this point last year. An impressive return to form, and good news for all. Platform split continues to favour Xbox One more than most titles with a 45 per cent share, though the PS4's 55 per cent still leads.

It's all the more impressive when you consider the furore over loot boxes, which hasn't seemed to have impacted this game, plus the server failures at launch which have only recently been patched - adding in social spaces. We'd hate to be in the next Call of Duty developer's shoes if 2018's title doesn't also feature a strong historical context.

The second and third spots are held by EA but with very different stories. FIFA 18 is doing very well at No.2, it's a little down on previous years, but that's nothing that the shift to digital can't account for, retailers should be pleased with it, while EA must be very happy. At No.3, Battlefront II is still labouring, having racked up around the half the sales of its predecessor. We're not convinced that the loot boxes are entirely to blame, either. The anger online is significant, but a sales dip this big is more likely attributable to mainstream consumer apathy than angry forumites.

Super Mario Odyssey at No.4 has now racked up a healthy chunk of sales, and has been selling very strongly since Black Friday as part of hardware bundles, with minimal sales falls week-on-week. The Mario bundle contains a digital code, rather than a cartridge, so that should reduce the number of units coming back for trade-in. Good news for Nintendo's numbers, but maybe not for retailers.

Only one new release makes the Top 40 in a slow week for fresh blood – this time it’s Gearbox Publishing’s ‘Hello Neighbor’ debuting in at No37.

As for next week there's only one game in town - PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds come to Xbox in its Game Preview Edition format. That means there's no disc in the box, just a code. That may well migrate most sales to digital, but if it works out for publisher Microsoft, then it's an approach we could see a lot more of in future.

  1. Call of Duty: WWI (Activision)
  2. FIFA 18 (EA)
  3. Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (EA)
  4. Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo)
  5. Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft)
  6. Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar)
  7. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo)
  8. WWE 2K18 (2K/Take-Two)
  9. The Sims 4 (EA)
  10. LEGO marvel Super Heroes 2 (Warner Bros)

Rebellion at 25: What’s the secret to its longevity?

On Rebellion’s 25th anniversary, MCV pays the studio a visit to talk to its longest-serving staff

Rebellion is a company full of unique characters that has spent the last 25 years pushing technological boundaries. 

Take the company’s head of art, Chris Payton. His desk is littered with Playmobil. Three-inch tall figurines line his monitor, taller ornaments reach out across the workspace. Payton says he knew his desk was becoming a shrine to the plastic toys after he installed the train set. 

A button on his desk sends a train bursting out from behind his monitor, rolling back past the computer, vanishing behind a figure of Sniper Elite hero Karl Fairburne. 

This is family. Or as close to a family as you can be while still ensuring you get video games out of the door. Speaking to several veterans of the company, Rebellion’s internal motto seems to be to push the envelope, to take on technical challenges and emerge victorious.

Jason Kingsley, CEO and creative director of Rebellion says that the company was born out of freelance game work that he and his brother Chris, a co-founder and the company’s CTO, were doing alongside their PhDs.

“We were doing more and more computer game stuff,” says Jason Kingsley. “But we also ended up doing quite a lot of management, because nobody else in the team was doing it. So we ended up managing projects, and trying to coordinate things a little bit, as well as our freelance tasks and we weren’t getting paid for it. “

So the brothers decided to found Rebellion together and go into business for themselves. 

Rebellion’s first project was the demo for a dragon flying game that pitched dragons against Viking longships. The Kingsley brothers took the game to Atari’s office in Slough. 

“Atari was a shadow of its former self,” Kingsley recalls. “It had huge offices with amazing brown round Hessian wallpaper that was very faded. We went through one empty room after another to finally get to people’s offices. It was amazing. It was like something out of an apocalyptic scenario.”

The game was shown to a few people, including the CEO of Atari. “He said: ‘Oh, this will be brilliant for our new Atari Jaguar console’,” Kingsley explains. “The Atari people went: ‘What new console?’ The first time anybody in Europe had heard of the Atari Jaguar was when their CEO told people in our meeting that this would be good for that console.”

The dragon versus longship battler wasn’t commissioned, but Atari had the license for an Alien vs Predator game, and they wanted Rebellion to make it for them. 

"We’ve always wanted to make games that we want to play."

This was the team’s first game developed in-house and required Rebellion to hire staff and rent out an office. Kingsley states that working with such an established license as their first game was a “very respectful” process, that Rebellion started out with “complete confidence.” Atari was expecting a side-scrolling 2D beat-em-up, but Rebellion won the firm over on an “into the screen 3D thing” that ended up being one of the earliest first-person shooters.

Kingsley describes the Atari Jaguar classic as “truly innovative,” with the team pulling out all the stops with several techniques that hadn’t been seen before: building and photographing models to scan into the game as texture maps, characters animated with stop motion techniques and 16-bit colour. 

The gameplay had a unique quirk, too, allowing gamers to play as the villains, both predator and xenomorph. These additions resonated with gamers and Alien Vs Predator became the best selling game on the Atari Jaguar.

This success meant that when Fox decided to move into games, the firm approached Rebellion to create a new version of Alien vs Predator for the PC, one that featured full 3D, giving xenomorphs the memorable ability to skitter across the ceiling. This was a technical challenge as well as a gameplay choice: many developers of the era were saving polygons by making their ceilings less detailed than the floor because a player wasn’t likely to look at it closely. For Rebellion, every wall and ceiling were a floor. A shortcut would be impossible. 

Too ambitious

“One of the problems we’ve always had at Rebellion is that we’re always too ambitious in how we create our environments,” Kingsley says with a smile that indicates he’s not too upset. 

Take Sniper Elite, an FPS game about taking out soldiers of the Third Reich at long range, perhaps Rebellion’s best-known franchise in recent years. 

“A sniping game means you need to be able to zoom into the distance,” Kingsley continues. “For a lot of people that don’t have sniping in their games, they don’t have to worry about distance and the number of polygons.

“We often feel that we’ve made a rod for our own backs with some of our creative decisions, but our technical team is so good that they can make the best of it and make it really work. And that’s why our games are successful, and why, I think, games like the Sniper Elite series are right up there with the best games in the world from the very expensive and very well funded big studios.”

Kingsley says that the firm is “absolutely” drawn to technical and gameplay challenges that they can try to conquer. It’s something shared by the entire company. 

Everything Rebellion creates is built on its own technology, so the studio uses its own engine, and tries to avoid middleware where possible so that everything is tooled towards the game it’s been created for. 

“If there’s something we need it to do, we can make the engine do that,” says Kingsley. “We don’t have to worry that ‘Oh, the engine can’t do that so we have to compromise our creative visions’.”

It’s not just in the engine tech, too. Payton, who’s been with Rebellion for a decade, and the company’s head of art for just over six years, has gone from overseeing three people to 19, but he’s also seen art in video games go through a substantial change. 

“Budgets have gone up, naturally, but also what you can do in the same amount of time goes up. For example, the heads of our characters separate from the bodies,” says Payton. “There’s a little line around the neck and that’s how we can change heads. In Sniper Elite 3, it took us ten days to make a head, and that would be done by eye, essentially. We would do reference photography, we would cut and paste bits of skin, bits of eyes, things like that. This would take ten days to make it. Now, it takes us ten days to make a head by programmetry, so we’re not actually saving time, but the quality improvement is massive. All those subtleties make a face a face, and that’s what we’re really looking for.”

This is a typical example of Rebellion’s development process: Payton talks about how improvements in the workflow, new technologies and tools or even innovative solutions have come forward to reduce the requirements of games, to squeeze as much performance as possible out of consoles and PCs. Then the team comes in and uses this extra power to try to add a new feature or make things look better.

“As much as we make things a little faster, a little better in terms of performance, we’re also making battles bigger, putting in higher quality textures or creating higher fidelity shaders,” says Payton.

He adds that the Kingsleys, both Jason and Chris, are very supportive of teams taking big risks if they think there’s a payoff. Payton hints at an internal feature that a small team has been working on for months, that has now brought results that Rebellion is hoping to integrate into a new game. All very vague of course, but it shows something about Rebellion: that the studio is constantly iterating and improving on things, pushing forwards not just to keep gamers invested but also to create something the company wants to play for themselves. 

This focus on bettering themselves led to the art team pulling out and reworking the rendering system between Sniper Elite 3 and its sequel, the well-received Sniper Elite 4 but it also means that, of all the projects Payton is most excited about at Rebellion, he’s hoping he’ll get another chance to go back to World War II, as he’s got unfinished business with the Nazi-killing sniper Karl Fairburne. 

“I would love to make another Sniper Elite game,” he enthuses. “I think it’s an artistic thing, when you’ve been making something for a while, I think the last third of it, you’re already thinking: ‘Shit, if I do this again, I’d be doing that or I’d be doing this.”

Making games for themselves

Jason Kingsley suggests that the reason Rebellion throws itself so entirely into every technological challenge is that, fundamentally, they’re making games for themselves: 

“We’ve always wanted to make computer games that we want to play. That’s the truth of it. We don’t do much in the way of analytics or analysis of what’s the next big thing in computer games, because we just like making the games we like to play.”

For a studio with such a strong drive to create its own unique visions, Kingsley describes work-for-hire as a relatively limiting prospect, and says the company
moved out of work-for-hire at a time when the market was changing. 

“It was becoming more difficult to work,” he says. “The prices for projects were coming down, it was getting harder and harder to have enough people, and then you get a gap between projects and people say: ‘Have you got 100 people ready to go tomorrow?’ And you go: ‘Well how could I have thought to have 100 people sitting around for six months while you decide to do a project?’ It is a difficult thing to manage and there are still very successful people that do work-for-hire, but prices have gone back up again now so people who work-for-hire are charging much more now than they used to.”

Still, the change in the market encouraged Rebellion to transition into making their own games. Kingsley went about this in two ways, pivoting Rebellion towards creating its own titles and buying up IPs he’d worked with or wanted to work with. This led to the acquisition of several older licenses they’d worked on such as Battlezone, but also the wholesale acquisition of comics outfit 2000AD, giving the studio unlimited access to the characters and scenarios described within the comic book’s pages. 

"Our mum has stopped asking when I’m going to get a proper job, at least."

Now the company is truly independent, working on its own games free of shareholders, publishers or any other commitments. Kingsley says it sometimes still doesn’t feel like a real job even after 25 years. 

“Our mum has stopped asking when I’m going to get a proper job, at least. That stopped about a decade ago, but until that point she was still expecting us to get bored of this and go on to get a ‘standard’ job. Computer games creator is a new type of job, and we were among the very first wave of people to get involved in the industry.” 

Video games are often viewed as a hit-based industry, but Kingsley says they’ve managed to be consistently successful over the last 25 years by being sensible with budgets and scope. 

“I don’t think [games] is a hit-driven industry if you do it right. I think you can make a game for a sensible budget, and you can quite probably sell enough to get the money back to do it again. Yes, our games don’t sell 10m units on Day One, but very few games do. I’m led to believe lots of people exaggerate their numbers, because they’re public companies and they need to reassure shareholders.

“The problem comes when the game is so expensive to make, that even if it sells very, very well, it hasn’t made enough money to make it a viable business,” Kingsley says, pulling figures out of the air. “That’s the tension. If it costs you $50m to make a game and you get $49m back from selling the game, well, that’s bad business. If you can make a game for $10m and sell $15m, then you’ve made $5m profit and you can put that back into the next game.”

The portfolio approach

Rebellion’s stability, Kingsley opines, is down to its portfolio approach to games so that there’s a mix of projects of different sizes landing at different times with manageable budgets. There’s plenty of room for experiments, but the team doesn’t gamble everything on
a single game. 

The company has experimented with VR with Battlezone – “a huge financial success for Rebellion,” Kingsley says, adding that Rebellion is “going to stay in VR.” The studio is also experimenting with remasters of earlier games, with a recent Rogue Trooper release doing good numbers for the company, although Kingsley says the team isn’t keen to just continue retreading old ground when there are new games to release.

New games in this case takes the form of Strange Brigade, a four player co-op shooter that channels something distinctly British in its story of four pulp-era adventures battling mythological creatures for ancient relics and profit. If it works out, it’ll be another successful IP for Rebellion. If not, the studio has several more ideas for what might come next. 

Kingsley describes the portfolio approach as a desire to avoid gambling everything on one project. But, as it turns the page on its second quarter-century, the company feels like a sure bet.

Glitchers: How video games can save the world

Imagine if every game out there was designed with some background aspect of feeding into the kind of research that could have significant real-world impact?

Max Scott-Slade has over ten years experience within the games industry, during which he has launched a number of successful game IPs. In 2013, he co-founded award-winning London-based studio Glitchers, where he currently resides as game design director.

Yes, it’s a bold statement but one that I stand by – video games can in fact save the world. All of us are no doubt aware of how much more our industry is worth than TV or movies, but it’s the other kind of value of our audience that interests me most, their engagement.

On one hand, what I’m referring to is players’ love of the products and how vocal they can be in giving the feedback that ultimately shapes them. While not unique to games, this is more pervasive than any other medium. On the other hand, I’m talking about the defining aspect of what makes a game a game – the audience in a new world created for them to explore and become immersed in. Every change in direction, button-push and small decision in that world displays a wealth of information about how people themselves work, which in turn can feed into processes that can have far-reaching implications.

We’ve seen player power feeding in to these processes, such as with the Folding@home project, now shuttered after a successful five year run in which 100m hours of player time was donated. Yet while this made massive contributions to the power Stanford needed to fold proteins, it was just power that was given by the players, nothing more.

What we now have the power to do is examine every move a player makes to determine how they respond to certain situations. Depending on how a game’s data is used, it can teach us incredible things about how the brain works, human behavioural psychology, reaction speed, hand-eye coordination and loads more. With this information we could prevent accidents, cure diseases, or at the very least improve day-to-day life for millions of people around the world.

"Imagine if every game out there was designed with some background aspect of feeding into the kind of research that could have significant real-world impact?"

The accessibility of data such as this allows us as game designers to refine our titles, paving the way for increased accuracy in data collection. For instance, our Alzheimer's-tackling mobile game, Sea Hero Quest, gave us a pool of over 3m players' data to draw from when designing the VR version of the game. From this pool we were essentially able to cherry-pick the most appropriate and effective designs for levels within the game. The information on how players navigate this simple test was fed back and made for some fascinating insights concerning Alzheimer's.

Our aim was always to apply this as a fun game to play, on top of everything else. But imagine if every game out there was designed with some background aspect of feeding into the kind of research that could have significant real-world impact? Before you know it we could have triple-A racers feeding into driverless vehicle technology, narrative adventure games giving extra detail to research on empathy, perhaps even a match-three title contributing to colour-blindness research.

After all, there’s a huge amount of psychological knowledge that goes into monetisation strategy these days, whether in the time-based waiting system in Candy Crush or the infamous loot boxes that have caused such a storm recently. 

Why don’t we channel what we learn from that into some causes that can affect real change around the world too? Perhaps we can save our planet and the humans within it, not just sell to it.

National Videogame Arcade: We must build cultural confidence

Why is there still a case to answer for games? When will people acknowledge that they're fundamentally interesting and valuable in and of themselves?

Iain Simons is the CEO of the National Videogame Foundation. It runs the National Videogame Arcade, GameCity Festival and lots of other brilliant work that you can check on www.thenva.com

The last month at the National Videogame Arcade has been confusing and I’m knackered. I’ve spoken at a national cinema exhibitors conference about our new festival idea, we’ve announced a new video game music event, planned out the Monument Valley exhibition, welcomed a delegation from Indonesia who sees us as a model for public engagement in creative industries, welcomed over 2,000 paying visitors to the galleries, had a board meeting for EFGAMP (that’s a bunch of European museums trying to reform copyright law so we can preserve games easier)... And that’s just our stuff. There’s a tonne of equally brilliant work happening around the country. It’s video game culture and it’s happening, right now. 

So, why is there still a case to answer for games? Why don’t games have any cultural confidence? I don’t mean in the insoluble ‘are games art yet’ debate that used to be a panel at every conference. I mean, when will people acknowledge that they’re fundamentally interesting and valuable in and of themselves?

The argument that gets batted around most is that games make a lot of money, therefore they must be culturally valuable. I think people objectively understand that games have economic value. The problem is they don’t understand that games have intrinsic, cultural value. They’re weightless, floating around untethered to anything and the instinct to auto-trivialise is too strong. There’s such amazing work being made, and yet potential focus is pulled from it by making trailers about smashing up women with hammers.

"Why is there still a case to answer for games? When will people acknowledge that they're fundamentally interesting and valuable in and of themselves?"

Recently, some industry colleagues proposed a British Games Institute. There’s been some turbulence around it, it’s not a perfect proposal, but it’s marked out some vital ground. There’s no mainstream, tangible support for games culture that we can see. The Arts Council is interested in games, but some way from having a cohesive policy, BAFTA does some amazing work but it's not going to add a ‘G’, the BFI is naturally dedicated to film. The BGI has described itself as a ‘centre of gravity’ for games culture, something for the floating, weightless mass of vital game culture to orbit. The fact that the BGI has captured the imagination as much as it has demonstrates the size of the vacuum its proposing to help fill. 

When I was a kid, I learned how to play the guitar because I loved it. I can feel the value in sitting and playing music. 

At a videogame skills event recently a number of major publishers were talking about how they were looking to bring computer science to kids, all through the lens of driving the production. A colleague who funds major creative projects leaned over to me and asked: "This is all good, but what about the kids who want to learn how to make games but don’t want to be in the games industry?” For me, that’s the point. It’s can’t all be about production, it can’t all be about the economy. People make games for lots of reasons and they’re doing it right now, even as you read this. If we can create a funding mechanism that can recognise that kind of creative value, it would be amazing. 

Finally, gravity.

Square Enix CEO cool on microtransactions on console

A broad push into the microtransaction model on console looks unlikely

After speaking to Square Enix CEO Yosuke Matsuda it looks unlikely that the Japanese-based publisher will follow the likes of Take-Two or EA in a broad strategic push towards games-as-a-service titles with microtransactions.

Having been asked about the different models of mobile and console games, Matsuda replied: "The way that console games are made, the volume of content and how much effort goes into them, there’s something in that which doesn’t fit in the mind with microtransactions.”

Instead he was happy to continue with a DLC model of providing content post-launch: “Our feelings on it is people have bought those games and we want them to be able to enjoy them and play them as long as possible. So after they’ve completed the game, to add extra things and give them new things to enjoy. That’s an important thing and very vital for us to provide that.”

He also added: “Overall it really comes down to customer perceptions, what people expect and want in a home console game is perhaps quite different from what people want in a mobile game and it’s looked at in a different way."

He then equated the PC market as being closer to the mobile market. "Certainly with mobile games they are all the online model, maybe looking at them as being closer to PC online games than console games in that sense. In the PC market there are percentage-wise a lot more free-to-play games, PC gamers are much more used to those than console gamers are, so I think in that sense mobile games are much closer to PC games in that sense."

Of course a real test of that opinion on microtransactions and console games will come with the upcoming Avengers game, which as a very lucrative game with access to innumerable Marvel characters, would be perfect for such a model.

You can read the full interview with Matsuda in the latest edition of MCV - available to read here online.

Square Enix CEO Matsuda on project-centric development - in the last MCV of the year

Also featuring interviews with Rebellion, Devolver, Zenimax Online Studios, PQube and more

It's the last issue of MCV of the year, and the last issue of MCV in its current form as well. From January next week NewBay will be merging MCV, Develop and Esports Pro under the MCV brand to create a single brand that will better serve the entire UK games industry. Read our Editor's leader in this issue for more details on this exciting new direction for the brand.

In this week’s issue, we talk to Square Enix president and CEO Yosuke Matsuda about the company's exploration of project-centric development teams and an increasingly globalised market. 

We visit Rebellion on its 25th anniversary and talk to long-serving staff about the company's core values and where it's going next.

And we chat with Devolver's co-founders on the company's incredible success and unique approach to corporate communications.

The latest digital edition can be read here for free

The full contents of this week's issue are below:

  • LEADER: Why MCV is changing and how it will better serve the UK games industry
  • OPINION: The National Videogame Arcade's Iain Simons on a lack of cultural confidence in games
  • OPINION: Glitchers' Max Scott-Slade on nothing less than 'how video games can save the world'
  • OPINION: When gaming and gambling collide - Paul Gardner from Wiggin LLP on loot boxes and the law
  • SQUARE ENIX: Yosuke Matsuda talks Tokyo RPG Factory and the globalised games market
  • REBELLION: There aren't many UK developers still operating after 25 years, so what's Rebellion's secret?
  • 2018: We pick the top trends to dominate the coming year
  • DEVOLVER: If publishers were record labels, Devolver would be the coolest one around
  • ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE: After a rocky start ESO is doing well, proving that the MMO isn't dead yet
  • PQUBE: The distributor turned indie publisher on its big 2017
  • DROPMIX: It's card game like no other, we talk to Harmonix about its DJ party game
  • PLUS! Horizon Zero Dawn merchandise range, Call of Duty: WWII tops the monthly charts, HZD Complete Edition and Fallout 4 VR headline the big game releases of the week, and more

Russia won’t be removed from Ubisoft’s Winter Olympics game; Far Cry 5 delayed

“We have decided to invest additional development time in three upcoming games”

Ubisoft has said it won’t be pulling Russia from its Winter Olympics expansion for Steep, despite the country’s ban from the South Korean 2018 Winter Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee this week blocked Russia’s participation in the event after it was found guilty of employing a state-backed systematic doping program. However, the door was left open for Russian athletes who could prove they were clean to compete as neutrals, without uniform and without the backing of the anthem.

Ubisoft recently released its Road to the Olympics expansion for sports title Steep, featuring Russia as one of the competitor countries. However, a spokesperson for the company told Kotaku that “there are no existing plans to patch Russia out” of the game.

The publisher has also confirmed delays for two if its titles.

Far Cry 5 has been pushed back by one month to March 27th, while The Crew 2 will now land in the first half of Ubisoft’s 2018/2019 fiscal year and not in March next year as was planned. Another as-of-yet announced game has been pushed back by as much as a year, too.

“This decision is in line with our strategic vision of developing even more engaging and higher quality experiences for gamers,” Worldwide Studios executive director Christine Burgess-Quémard said.

“Taking more time with Assassin’s Creed Origins enabled our talented development team to fully express their creative vision. As expected, this had a very positive impact on the game’s quality and largely participated to its commercial success. Taking a similar approach, we have decided to invest additional development time in three upcoming games.”

Yogscast Jingle Jam cruises past last year’s total

Incredible Humble Bundle deal sees 100% of proceeds go to charity

Annual charity the Yogscast Jingle Jam has hit $3.4m, smashing the $2.57m raised in the 2016 event.

Yogscast has partnered with Humble Bundle to sell an incredible $35/£26 bundle that offers $850 worth of games including sandbox survival sim Rust, Garry’s Mod, Gunpoint, Teslagrad, Chivalry: Medieval War, Guild Wars 2 and Warhammer: Vermintide 2.

Amazingly, that deal still has over 23 days to run, and a new game will be unlocked for the bundle every day up until Christmas. If all 150,000 available bundles are sold they will reach a massive $5m raised.

Supported charities include Special Effect, Wallace and Gromit's Grand Appeal, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the Mental Health Foundation, Save the Children, the ILGA and Cancer Research and Charity: Water. 100% of the bundle’s proceeds will go the charities.

The Yogscast Jingle Jam had raised $6m in the six years leading up to the 2017 event.

“The Jingle Jam started because every Christmas people would offer to buy us presents to say thank you,” Yogscast said. “The best gift you can give is to help those less fortunate at this time of year.

“We started with special charity livestreams and then began reaching out to all of our contacts in the games industry and rewarding kind donators with a big bundle of games!

We are incredibly grateful to all the devs and the games industry for their great generosity, which has helped the Jingle Jam raise over $6million over the last 5 years for some fantastic causes.”

PUBG briefly toppled from Steam charts by rage-inducing Getting Over It With Bennet Foddy

Successor to QWOP has been a big streaming hit

Having set the streaming world alight with its fury-inducing play, the spiritual successor to QWOP enjoyed a brief stint at the top of the Steam charts after its release this week.

Getting Over It With Bennet Foddy had previously been made available on the Humble Store. The surreal title challenges players with mastering an obtuse control system to try and navigate a vertically-orientated map. Mistakes – which are incredibly easy to make – can result in virtually all progress being lost.

The best way to understand is to see it wrecking lives:

The game became a breakout hit on Twitch and YouTube, with viewers enjoying both the apoplectic rage and, of course, the incredible skill with which some players were able to better the title.

Check this out:

Bennet Foddy previously created QWOP, in which players had to try and animate a character to run with perfect coordination and control of each limb.

As it happens the game’s stint on top of the listings was a brief one, and the £26.99 PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has since recaptured it crown. The half-price Grand Theft Auto V and new release Spellforce 3 have also now pushed their way ahead.

Death Stranding, Bayonetta 3 and From Software tease storm The Game Awards as Zelda wins Best Game

Owlchemy also announces Job Simulator follow-up

New trailers and fresh game announcements led the way at last night’s The Game Awards.

A suitably esoteric trailer for Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding was probably the main talking point. Norman Reedus was back in action, complete with pregnancy overtones, but this time with added reverse gravity and self-mutilation. The crab was still there though. You have to watch it to understand, really, although of course you will not understand a single thing about it.

There was also a super-short tease for From Software’s net project, which is still without a name unless the ‘Shadows Die Twice’ text at the end is the title. Or it could be Bloodborne 2.

There was also confirmation that Bayonetta 3 will be a Nintendo Switch exclusive, and that the first two games in the series will be released for the Switch in February 2018.

THQ Nordic announced new title Fade to Silence, which hits Early Access next week.

Owlchemy also announced a follow up to its superb VR title Job Simulator – it’s called Vacation Simulator.

Rare’s Sea of Thieves, on which you think a lot ism riding, will launch on March 20th.

And Firewatch developer Campo Santo has announced a new game called In The Valley of the Gods.

A March release date for EA’s co-op prison break title A Way Out was also confirmed.

As for the awards themselves, it was a good night for Nintendo, with Zelda: Breath of the Wild claiming the Best Game title – and many more.

Game of the Year – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Best Game Direction – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Best Narrative – What Remains of Edith Finch
Best Art Direction – Cuphead
Best Score/Music – NieR: Automata
Best Audio Design – Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
Best Performance – Melina Juergens, Hellblade
Games for Impact – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Best Ongoing Game – Overwatch
Best Handheld Game – Metroid: Samus Returns
Best VR/AR Game – Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Best Action Game – Wolfenstein II
Best Action Adventure Game – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Best Role Playing Game – Persona 5
Best Fighting Game – Injustice 2
Best Family Game – Super Mario Odyssey
Best Strategy Game – Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Best Sports/Racing Game – Forza Motorsports 7
Most Anticipated Game – The Last of Us Part II
Best Independent Game – Cuphead
Best Student Game – Level Squared
Trending Gamer – Guy Beahm
Best esports Game – Overwatch
Best esports Player – Lee sang-hyeok 'Faker', League of Legends
Best esports Team – Cloud9
Best Debut Indie Game – Cuphead
Best Chinese Game – jx3 HD
Best Mobile Game – Monument Valley 2
Industry Icon – Carly Shaw

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds leaves Early Access on December 20th; New map hits testing today

“Based on our testers and viewers reactions we prepared and hoped for a moderate success. We were not prepared for what followed”

2017’s defining game will get its full post Early Access release on PC on December 20th.

That’s a little later than the September date that was originally touted back in March, but at just nine months after release is still a remarkable achievement for a game that has grown so much and defined an industry since its arrival.

In other good news for players, the highly anticipated desert map will go live on test servers this morning and remain available for two days. This will be the first chance for players to explore a new world within the game beyond the launch map, and comes complete with a load of new additions – three new vehicles (van, pick-up, jet ski), three new weapons (a new revolver bolt action rifle and sawn-off shotgun) and plenty of tweaks to the mechanics.

Developer Bluehole has also confirmed that the game will not increase in price when 1.0 is released, and that all future maps will be free.

“We started working on our game in late March 2016 and conducted the first closed pre-alpha test in July. Back then almost everything besides the main mechanics and the game concept was a placeholder. But we knew that the Battle Royale experience we were offering was unique and the feedback of that small group of first testers confirmed it,” the latest developer update reads.

“Before our release on Steam Early Access in March 2017, after only a year of development, we knew that we already had a small fan base that was looking forward to our Steam release. Based on our testers and viewers reactions we prepared and hoped for a moderate success. We were not prepared for what followed.

“Breaking all kinds of videogame records was a very exciting experience, especially for a small team like ours, but it also meant that we had some very serious stepping up to do. We had to grow as a company and we had to do it very quickly. We hired new people, made opened new departments within the company and finally even separated from Bluehole into PUBG Corporation to better focus on PUBG.

“We know that there have been problems along the way and that things aren’t always perfect. We had to work on and monitor two builds, the differences between which were more than trivial. As a result we were unable to address the issues on the live servers as quickly as we used to before. We are very sorry about any frustration that this has caused.

“Our journey is your journey, because without you none of this would be possible. We are forever grateful to our community for your support, your constructive criticism and your love for our game. Most importantly, we want you to know that this is just the beginning. When PC 1.0 comes out, our journey doesn’t end. When PC 1.0 comes out, the first part of our journey will be over, but only so that the next one can begin.

“We believe that we’ve completed the core Battle Royale structure for PUBG through the Closed Beta and Early Access. We want to continue our work on perfecting it and improve in many areas. Expect to see some major (and some minor) changes in gameplay, sound, optimization, matchmaking, UI, animation, gunplay and other areas after the release of version 1.0.”

PUBG will also be released for Xbox One on December 12th.

Discord nears 90m users as hunt begins for UK-based European office

“The way the gaming community has embraced Discord blows us away”

Chat platform Discord is on the brink of another milestone as the service nears the 90m user mark.

Once achieved, that will represent a near quadrupling of the service’s user base in just one year, having sat at 25m in December 2016. At the time of writing Discord boasts 87m users, but it expects to hit 90m some time in the next two weeks.

Discord’s daily active users now reach 14m, with concurrent users typically hitting 6.25m.  315m messages are sent every day and around 9.45bn every month. 1.5m new users join the service every week, and members now reside in over 130 countries.

Currently Discord’s largest server has 120k members. The largest popular verified servers are for Fortnite, PUBG, Vainglory, Foxhole and Minecraft.

Discord also told MCV that it is currently investigating plans for European expansion, with its aim being to establish a UK office.

“We are always amazed when we look at our growth numbers and see that more people, communities, and developers are using Discord. We have always felt confident that we are building something people would want because we wanted it, but the way the gaming community has embraced it blows us away,” Discord’s co-founder and CEO Jason Citron told MCV.

“We've added a lot this year for both devs and players. For devs, we created the Verified Server program offering a way to identify official game servers and then we launched Rich Presence, an SDK allowing developers to integrate with Discord to surface game info and invitations on players' Discord profiles.

“For players, we added new features the community had been asking for including video chat for both mobile and PC, screen share, and channel categories allowing better server organization. Our focus in 2018 is to continue growing those programs, working with more devs worldwide, and adding more of the polish and new features players want.

“Logistically and operationally, we will spend time next year looking at international expansion and opening a European office. We want to be able to expand our marketing, CX, and event efforts as well as spend more time building relationships with devs. All of that, of course, means we are hiring - so we encourage people to check out our jobs page if they want to join us in 2018.”

Unity: People powered platform

The most important part of any game are its players. And Unity is using that exact philosophy when it comes to creators on its platform. 

What do Firewatch, I am Setsuna, Overcooked, Pokémon Go, Superhot, Super Mario Run, Cuphead, Gwent, Sudden Strike 4 and Yooka-Laylee all have in common? Apart from all being great examples in their own genres, they were all created on Unity. 

That surely puts to rest the old erroneous notion that Unity is only for mobile or indie games. The highly-flexible platform has proven itself in both VR and AR too and is being used to create a short film series by none less than Neill Blomkamp. 

While Unity’s updates continue, there’s a huge amount of work being done behind the scenes to build around the core tool, creating a platform that provides every possible resource that its huge community of creators could require. 

We catch up with Clive Downie, now CMO at Unity, but who first made his mark at EA in the UK, to talk about how the platform is serving its biggest asset.

Is Unity now the biggest games engine in the world?

Unity powers over half of all the new games coming to market on the planet. Looking at the aggregate share across all platforms, it’s higher on some platforms than others, but that is a factually-correct statement and we’re pleased to be able to do that.

And all those games means you’ve built a huge community with Unity skills?

When people ask me ‘What’s the most valuable thing about Unity’, they expect me to firstly talk about the technology and features, but actually the most valuable thing about Unity is the fact that there is a million-strong community of developers and creators who know how to use this tool to make wonderful things in digital, and we’re humbled by that, but that’s actually our most valuable asset.

What are the other uses of Unity outside of games?

We’ll always have games at the foundation of what we do, games are a passion for us and we just love them – who doesn’t? But because of its ability to allow people to create in 3D and real time, we’re seeing Unity starting to be used for a whole host of other applications, by industries that understand the value real time visual computation gives them.

Ultimately, our overall goal is to power the digital creativity on the planet and if we can achieve that with a foundation of games and then moving onto other areas where digital creativity can benefit from real-time, then we’re excited about that. 

There are people using Unity in automotive, in architecture, in creative agencies for marketing and advertising, in the film and broadcast industry. And the only reason that they are is because of the great things that have been made with Unity in gaming. 

The work that the gaming creators have done with Unity over the last ten years have brought us to this place, because other creators outside of gaming have been able to look at the real-time creativity that’s coming from game makers and think ‘You know what, I think that tool would be really good to enhance the creativity and efficiency in our workflow’. 

And that’s a great thing for Unity developers and creators in gaming, because when you’re an industry or a vertical outside of gaming and you want to start using this new tool, where do you go for great talent to kick off the usage of Unity? It’s a great time for game makers if they want to take their talent to other verticals, a great time to start thinking about that. The opportunity is now.

Pictured above: Oscar-nominated director Neill Blomkamp has created the ADAM series of short movies using Unity

Back to games, how does Unity help users monetise their creations and what more can you do?

We have three key principles at Unity and one of those is ‘enabling success’. You can have the best creativity in the world, but if you can’t make money… then you’ll very quickly move onto something else. 

We have a number of very specific features in Unity at the runtime level. They’re not additional SDKs that you have to add-on, they are almost like native applications. We have our analytics system, which allows anyone making a game to understand how people are playing that game and where the challenges are that you need to fix to retain the largest set of customers. 

Aligned with that we have a system on mobile – though we’re broadening it to other tools – that allows you to update the product remotely without having to create a new binary. If you align that with analytics, that’s really powerful, because you can understand what needs to be changed in the game and then you can change it, over the air.

And you’re helping to deal with the nitty-gritty of payments, of course?

Yes, we have our in-app purchase functionality. If you want to maximise in-app purchases, across multiple formats often, you have to tether your game to a multitude of different IAP, SDK and APIs. But we do that for you. All you have to do is write to the IAP system in Unity and we handle all the other transactions out to any store you want to publish on.

We also have our own advertising network. Unity’s video network is the number one first party video network on mobile. It sits behind only Facebook and Google in terms of reach. Unity games on mobile alone are played on over 1bn distinct devices a month. And that allows us to make sure that we can optimise the right adverts for the right customer, to make sure that the yield on those adverts are the highest they can be. That’s another great way for us to drive a revenue stream down to our developers.

"Ultimately, our overall goal is to power the digital creativity on the planet, with a foundation of games and then moving to other areas where digital creativity can benefit from real-time."

Clive Downie, Unity

That sounds pretty comprehensive, but what’s next in this area?

There are more things on the horizon. We’re adding machine learning layers underneath our advertising network to bring more ways to optimise yield from very different sets of customers who are using your game everyday. To ensure you’re more successful. And ultimately that your customers are happier, that they can get more out of the game, based on how they want to play it. 

In a way you’re running your own live service – how do you retain your own users?

We moved our business from a perpetual license product to software-as-a-service last year. In fact, 2017.1 was the first software-as-a-service only product. Before that, we had been running [both models] in parallel.

We essentially moved Unity over to being somewhat of a live service, especially when you have the number of creators we do using Unity on a daily basis, it can’t be a one-size-fits-all offering for people. As the performance of the tool increases, so can the complexity. We do work to understand how different segments of creators are using Unity, and then we work to equip those people with the aspects of Unity that they need. We will send them communications, we will send them particular learning materials, we’ll send them particular tutorials, we’ll connect them with other developers similar to them, so they can learn together. 

So you’re actively working to build ties within the community?

We’re actively building a community, but we’re actively making sure that people get the most out of Unity based on who they are. We’ve recently partnered with Pluralsight, one of the largest structured courseware companies in the world. We worked with them to create a beginner course for Unity, because it was something we were hearing from many people coming to Unity. While we’re fortunate enough to be in the position where we have a certain amount of ubiquity as a creative tool, we’re getting a lot of beginners everyday and they were telling us they needed a more rigorous programme. That’s on our website now and it’s been well received.

" If you come to Unity, you’re going to be in a place where what you need to ideate and bring your ideas to life is within arms reach of you."

Clive Downie, Unity

And there’s an internal market for assets and work?

We have our assets store, with thousands of publishers offering tens of thousands of assets, services and scripts. We find that store is used a lot in prototyping, to take creators from zero to prototype very quickly. 

One of things we’re thinking of doing is adding a marketplace option to it, very similar to an eLance option, where people can actually request very specific assets from those thousands of publishers. We’re looking into that and talking to customers.

Then we have Unity Connect. That’s the place that people go to everyday to connect in real time to creators like themselves who are online. They can learn from each other, they can ask each other to perform micro tasks on each others’ projects, share projects, ask each other for assets. 

You can start to see how everything revolves around this idea, that we’re really nurturing our creatives so they get the most out of Unity. They stick around and ultimately make great things and realise their goals.

Sounds like you’ve thought of everything...

I don’t think we’ve thought of everything, we still have lots of work to do. We’re not done, but we’re starting to fill in the holes around this notion of supplying digital creators with their total creative platform. 

If you come to Unity, you’re going to be in a place where what you need to ideate and bring your ideas to life is within arms reach of you. Without you really leaving Unity.

The Game Awards takes place tonight

You’re setting your alarm for 1:30am, right?

The night owls among us should set their alarms for 1:30am tonight for the now annual The Game Awards.

Presenters this year include none other than Hideo Kojima himself (which perhaps alludes to the tantalising hprospect of some possible Death Stranding gameplay, or at least an esoteric trailer involving, erm, otters and pencils?), Guillermo Del Toro, motion capture extraordinaire Andy Serkis and Jack Black.

The core of the event are the actual awards themselves. Categories include Game of the Year (PUBG or Zelda, presumably), Best Game Direction, Best Narrative, Best Art Direction, Best Score/Music, Best Audio, Best Performance, Best VR/AR Game, Best Esports Game, Best Chinese Game and many more.

However, as explained to VentureBeat, many viewers are just as interested in the accompanying trailers and reveals as they are the awards themselves.

“At least two games are brand-new game worlds that no one has ever seen before,” host Geoff Keighley said. “It becomes a sport to guess which ones they will be. It’s not the Oscars. It’s not the GDC awards. It’s The Game Awards. It’s a balance of awards and games that are coming in the future.”

Keighley also addressed how he tries to keep the show relevant without descending too far into cynicism.

“We can reference some of that stuff and it would be wrong to not reflect the zeitgeist,” he said, specifically referencing the Star Wars Battlefront 2 loot box saga. “There could be a lot of snark about the industry in general, but I really want something that is positive and uplifting that celebrates our love of video games.”

Steam ditches Bitcoin payments

“The degree of volatility has become extreme in the last few months”

Valve has removed the ability for users to pay for goods on Steam using Bitcoin, blaming the decision on ‘high fees and volatility’.

The company highlights the fact that Bitcoin transaction fees have now jumped as high as $20 per transaction – a far cry from the $0.20 fee that was active when Steam first added support for the currency.

“Historically, the value of Bitcoin has been volatile, but the degree of volatility has become extreme in the last few months. This creates a problem for customers trying to purchase games with Bitcoin,” Valve said.

“When checking out on Steam, a customer will transfer x amount of Bitcoin for the cost of the game, plus y amount of Bitcoin to cover the transaction fee charged by the Bitcoin network. The value of Bitcoin is only guaranteed for a certain period of time so if the transaction doesn’t complete within that window of time, then the amount of Bitcoin needed to cover the transaction can change.

“The normal resolution for this is to either refund the original payment to the user, or ask the user to transfer additional funds to cover the remaining balance. In both these cases, the user is hit with the Bitcoin network transaction fee again. This year, we’ve seen increasing number of customers get into this state.

“At this point, it has become untenable to support Bitcoin as a payment option. We may re-evaluate whether Bitcoin makes sense for us and for the Steam community at a later date.”

The move comes after a particularly unstable few weeks for the Bitcoin economy.

At the end of November, Bitcoin both hit a new record-high value and saw its value decline a massive 20 per cent in a single day – all of which came on a 1,100 per cent surge in year-to-date value. Bitcoin again hit a new record high yesterday, passing the $14,000 barrier.

Financial institutions remain dismissive of the digital currency, however. Coutts yesterday said that “currencies like Bitcoin have nothing but sentiment backing them up”, while the chief executive of Nordea Bank called Bitcoin a “joke” and an “absurd” construction.

There are also serious security concerns – CNBC reported just today that over $60m worth of Bitcoin was stolen in an online hack of cryptocurrency mining platform NiceHash.

Blitz Esports admits to early Riot Games funding

“We will be more proactive in disclosing Riot’s investment in our team from now on, so that all of our viewers are fully informed”

Esports news outlet Blitz Esports has confirmed a report that claimed League of Legends owner Riot Games has a financial interest in the site.

The link was first made by Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields on YouTube. Now the company has released a statement clarifying the nature of the relationship and apologising for not previously divulging the potential conflict of interest.

“Riot Games was an early investor in our team in 2015 when we were Instant Esports, before we started creating content,” the statement said. “At that time, we were building an esports mobile app serving tournament schedules, scores and stats on the competitive League of Legends and CS:GO scenes, and Riot shared our vision of making esports data easily accessible to all fans.

“Earlier this year, we independently shifted our focus away from the mobile app and toward esports content because our team thought it’d add more value for fans and that we could do a good job with it. (The app is still available and we’ll continue to support it, but most of our resources go into content now.) We took the opportunity to rebrand to Blitz because it sounds way cooler than ‘Instant’.

“Now that we’re creating content, we’re a normal publication going through normal media procedures: Riot has zero control over our operations, and we’ve had to prove ourselves independently through the quality of our content that we deserved access to LoL esports announcements alongside other media companies.

“Our esports coverage has been and always will be unbiased and fully independent of Riot or any other organization… That said, we will be more proactive in disclosing Riot’s investment in our team from now on, so that all of our viewers are fully informed. It was incorrect of us to disregard it before because it didn’t influence our content.”

It should be added that there has not been any suggestion that Blitz’s coverage has been in any way skewed in favour of Riot or LoL. Nonetheless, for a media outlet to be closely tied to one of the major companies it is reporting on is information that should have undoubtedly been volunteered.

Rick & Morty co-creator’s Squanchtendo rebrands as Squanch Games

“We never could have predicted the discovery of a video game entity with such a similar name”

The VR development studio founded by Rick & Morty co-creator Justin Roiland has undergone a rebrand.

Squanchtendo was founded by Roiland and Epic Games producer Tanya Watson last year. The name was formed from ‘Squanch’, which is the name of a planet from Rock & Morty that is populated by cat-like creatures, and ‘tendo’, which is obviously a play on Nintendo.

The studio has not directly suggested that it was put under any legal pressure from Nintendo but does cite the similarity of the names for its decision to rebrand to Squanch Games.

“We recently discovered a video game related company with a similar name to our former name,” a statement said. “We never could have predicted the discovery of a video game entity with such a similar name. What a surprise to us. We were shocked and surprised. So we decided in order to avoid confusion we are changing the back half of our name!

“We are now Squanch Games! Hooray! Also it’s National Microwave Oven Day! Did you know that? Go celebrate!”

The announcement was also accompanied by a revised version of its initial launch statement, which of course came in comic book form.

Squanch also said to look out for some news at tonight’s The Game Awards.

“Founded in 2016, the idea for Squanch Games was living in the brain of Justin Roiland for multiple years before the studio got properly started up,” the studio’s about page explains. “A gamer his whole life, he awoke to the idea of doing game design once he played with an Oculus DK2 headset. The possibilities of the technology and how it could be used for comedy combined with great gameplay was super exciting.

“Justin reached out to multiple potential developers, including Crows Crows Crows for the opportunity to collaborate and to just make some funny and fun stuff in VR.

“In 2016, Justin met up with Tanya Watson, who after leaving Epic Games after 10 years there working on games like Gears of War, Bulletstorm, and Fortnite, was eager to get into the VR space herself. So with their powers combined, they formed to create Squanch Games.

“We want to make stuff that people love. Games that we want to play ourselves. Experiences that we would like to be totally immersed in and enjoy for hours at a time, as well as shorter, crazier experiences that would be great to play with a group of friends or possibly with stray homeless people that you invited in so you could feed and bathe them. So come join us. Be a part of Squanch Games. Make games with us! or start saving your pennies up so you can purchase them when they come out. We hope you love them as much as we do.”

Epic settles lawsuit with Fortnite cheater

But row about second 14-year-old cheater rumbles on

Fortnite: Battle Royale developer Epic has settled a lawsuit with an individual who had been cheating at its free-to-play game.

Charles 'Joreallean' Vraspir was accused of violating the game’s EULA by injecting unauthorised code into the game. He was also accused of association with a site that provides cheats, on which he acted as a moderator and support staffer.

His cheats allowed him to see through objects, teleport around the gameworld and impersonate other players.

“The defendant’s cheating, and his inducing and enabling of others to cheat, is ruining the game playing experience of players who do not cheat,” Epic said, as reported by Torrent Freak.

The settlement rules that Vraspir destroys all of his cheats and never cheats again. Breaching this agreement will result in a $5,000 fine.

At the same time Epic opened proceedings against Vraspir, the company also targeted a second cheater. It then transpired, however, that this individual was just 14 years old, and thus cannot be sued. His mother previously attacked the company for the move.

“Please note parental consent was not issued to [my son] to play this free game produced by Epic Games,” she said, Torrent Freak adds, pointing out that the game cannot legally be played by minors without parental permission. “It is my belief that due to their lack of ability to curve cheat codes and others from modifying their game, they are using a 14-year-old child as a scape goat to make an example of him.”

Epic now says that they went legal on the boy to counter a counterclaim he had made against an attempted DMCA takedown against one of his cheat videos.

“Under these circumstances, the law requires that we file suit or drop the claim,” Epic said.

"Epic is not okay with ongoing cheating or copyright infringement from anyone at any age. We take cheating seriously, and we’ll pursue all available options to make sure our games are fun, fair, and competitive for players.”

The second lawsuit has yet to be settled.

Star Control devs and Stardock locked in dispute

“We contend that Stardock has zero rights to our games, including any code and other IP we created”

The makers behind the successor to 27-year-old space game Star Control have become embroiled in a very public dispute with developer Stardock.

Original Star Control designers Fred Ford and Paul Reiche are currently working on a successor to their game, while Stardock – which believes it owns the rights – is working on a prequel called Star Control: Origins.

The disagreement revolves around Stardock’s purchase of some Atari assets in 2013, including the name and trademark for Star Control. However, Ford and Reiche believe that Atari’s ownership of this code was invalid, having terminated some decade prior.

“We contend that Stardock has zero rights to our games, including any code and other IP we created,” Ford and Reiche wrote last week. “As far as we can currently tell, we have no relationship with Stardock that lets them sell the three earlier Star Control games without our permission, either bundled with their other products or separately.

“Stardock now seems to think that not only can they use our aliens, ships and narrative without our permission, but thinks that we cannot make a sequel to The Ur-Quan Masters without their permission – this is where we got really, really angry.

Stardock CEO Brad Wardell then responded.

“We are disappointed that Paul and Fred, two people we have a great deal of respect and admiration for, have chosen to imply that we are somehow preventing them from working on their new game,” he argued.

“Stardock has been nothing but supportive of their new project and wish them the best. The classic Star Control games have been available for sale long before Stardock acquired the rights from Atari four years ago. For the entirety of the time we have held the rights, they have been getting paid for those sales.

“We have stated, repeatedly and consistently for over four years that we are not using any of the aliens from the classic series. When we acquired Star Control from Atari in 2013, many assets were transferred to us including the various publishing agreements to the Star Control franchise.”

Ford and Reiche then revealed that they were surprised when the first three Star Control games turned up on GOG. Upon investigation it was discovered they were included as part of an Atari deal.

“We then contacted Atari to let them know that we were the original authors and owners of the copyright to the games and that we had not given permission for them to republish our work. Atari checked with its lawyers and wrote back confirming our claims, apologizing to everyone for the mistake and informing GOG to remove the games from sale and pay any royalties earned to us,” the pair continued.

“Instead we suggested a way that GOG could continue to sell our games. GOG signed separate, independent contracts with: Atari to license the Star Control trademark, and us to license the rights to the games themselves. GOG has been selling the games and paying us directly ever since.

“In October of this year, history repeated itself when Stardock began selling our games on Steam and elsewhere, again without getting our permission.  This time we couldn't come to an agreement, so we asked that Stardock stop bundling and selling the games. They refused, so we've decided to end our 2011 distribution agreement with GOG as a first step to having the games pulled down.”

The saga rumbles on, however, with Wardell biting back.

“Paul and Fred continue to make unsubstantiated claims regarding the DOS-based Star Control games. If they have any documentation to provide evidence to their assertions, we have yet to see them,” he added in an update to his first post.

“Stardock, by contrast, possesses a perpetual, exclusive, worldwide licensing and sales agreement that was explicitly transferred to us by Atari who in turn acquired it from Accolade that has Paul Reiche's signature along with a signed distribution agreement between Atari and GOG for the DOS Accolade Star Control games.

“The tone of their blog posts is similar to the kind of correspondence they had with us since the announcement of their Ur-Quan Masters successor, vague, full of demands and without any documentation. 

“With all due respect to Paul and Fred, they really should talk to competent legal counsel instead of making blog posts.”

Philadelphia Fusion pulls out of Overwatch League opener

“Player logistics” mean that Fusion will not compete in any preseason matches

One of the first two teams to compete in the long-awaited debut of the Overwatch League has withdrawn from preseason just hours before its opening match.

Philadelphia Fusion were due to compete with the Florida Mayhem in the League’s first ever official match at midnight tonight, but has now said it will not be competing in the preseason at all.

“Due to player logistics issues the Fusion will be absent from OWL preseason matches,” the team announced on Twitter. “Preparations for the regular season remain on track, as our players and coaches from 10 nations continue to scrimmage and work hard.

“We apologize to our fans in Philadelphia and around the world who were looking forward to our preseason competition. Please stay tuned for news surrounding opportunities to connect with our team and win Fusion gear in advance of our season opener on January 11th.”

San Francisco Shock will now compete in their place, and will also still participate in their mate against Los Angeles Valiant just two hours later. Further replacements for Fusion’s other matches will be announced at a later stage.

The team added to Kotaku that the withdrawal is not connected to last week’s suspension of Su-Min ‘Sado’ Kim who was found guilty of paid account boosting and suspended.

The Overwatch League will host three matches a day for four days a week starting from preseason tonight. Each of the 12 teams will play 40 games between January and June. Half of these teams will then progress to the month-long post season. The season will comprise four five-week long stages, with each team playing twice per week.

At the end of each stage the top team bets a bye into the next round and a week off. They will also be joined by the four other teams with the best record.

The League winner, crowned on July 28th, will win a very tidy $1m. The runner-up will claim $400k, third and fourth $100k and fifth and sixth $50k. These prizes are of course all on top of player salary.

 

National Videogame Arcade launches Patreon drive

“We're independent and we'd like to stay that way”

Nottingham’s National Videogame Arcade has taken to Patreon to help fund its efforts to preserve video game culture.

The NVA, which is located in a five-storey building in the centre of Nottingham, already attracts some 40,000 a year. It is operated by the non-profit National Videogame Foundation.

“We’re launching the Patreon to help people have a say in the work we do now, shape our priorities for the future and, of course, help us develop the NVA further,” National Videogame Foundation CEO Iain Simons said.

“It’s vitally important that DCMS support the development of a broader videogame culture through programmes like the British Games Institute, that we 100% support - but the NVA is here today.

“Thousands of families visit it every month to be inspired by videogames. Hundreds of school trips pass through our doors every year and countless new voices are inspired to make videogames. There’s nothing else like it.”

The NVA recently hosted a Football Manager exhibition, and will in December open a new show about smartphone hit Monument Valley and launch a national partners scheme for its young people’s game club Pixelheads. January sees the introduction of the All Your Bass video game music festival.

“We're independent and we'd like to stay that way,” the Patreon page states. “We get no core funding from any public or trade body, that’s why we’re asking for your support.

“You'll also be joining an exclusive list of hugely influential industry patrons like Ian Livingstone, John Romero, HTC Vive, Sumo Digital, SEGA, Carl Cavers, Boneloaf, Vlambeer, Andy Payne, UsTwo Games and many more. 

“We want to make something that's important to you, and for you to be a part of it.”

YouTube to be pulled from Amazon Fire TV

“Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and Fire TV”

Google is blocking access to YouTube on two Amazon devices.

The company has announced that YouTube access for both Fire TV and Echo Show owners will be halted on January 1st. The news comes as tensions between Google and Amazon escalate.

The precise reasons behind the disagreement vary by report, although Variety claims that Google believes Amazon’s layering of unauthorised voice control functions onto the YouTube web app is a violation of its terms of service. Indeed, Google had previously blocked Echo Show compatibility, only for Amazon to discover a workaround last month.

Other reports instead point to Amazon’s decision to stop selling the Google Chromecast, which competes with its own Fire TV product. Previous to this, the Chromecast had been the site’s top-selling streaming product. Amazon doesn’t stock other Google products such as the Home smart speaker, either.

Google’s own statement on the move certainly leans into this argument, too.

“We’ve been trying to reach agreement with Amazon to give consumers access to each other’s products and services. But Amazon doesn’t carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn’t make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of Nest’s latest products,” a Google statement said.

“Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and Fire TV. We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.”

Google’s decision to fight back with a YouTube block is likely to be effective, too, as sales of the Echo Show dipped following the previous YouTube block.

Amazon added to Variety: “Echo Show and Fire TV now display a standard web view of YouTube.com and point customers directly to YouTube’s existing website. Google is setting a disappointing precedent by selectively blocking customer access to an open website. We hope to resolve this with Google as soon as possible.”

EA ups Star Wars Battlefront 2’s post-game rewards

“These are only some initial steps toward making much larger changes”

EA’s ongoing efforts to appease the Star Wars Battlefront 2 naysayers have now seen it increase the rewards received by players after completing a match.

Early testing seems to suggest that the amount of credits handed out after a game has roughly doubled. The best performers in each match will enjoy the biggest gains, which perhaps goes someway to addressing the issue of player-created bots filling out multiplayer matches in an effort to grind rewards when players are away.

Users playing in the offline arcade mode can now earn up to 1,500 credits per day, up from the previous limit of 500. Also upped is the number of crafting parts received through the daily free crate. This had been set at just five credits, but now seems to have been increased to 15.

None of this completely removes the required grind, but should help to alleviate it somewhat, even though the loot box system remains in place.

“We’re excited to have launched the game to the world, but recognize that there have been some challenges along the way. We have learned a lot, and are making adjustments to the game to ensure the best experience possible,” an update said.

“While these are only some initial steps toward making much larger changes, some of these are ready to roll, and are available starting today.

“Thank you again for your passion around this game. Star Wars is special to all of us, and we all want to experience that world in fun, exciting ways. If you're already playing the game and are loving it, we want to thank you for taking the time to do so. We have a lot planned, and are excited to show you what’s to come.”

This week sees the release of the first of Battlefront 2’s The Last Jedi content. A lot more will follow on December 13th alongside the release of the movie. It’s not yet known when or if microtransactions will be added back into the game.

Capcom announces Mega Man 11 and a host of re-releases

Mega Man X series coming to all formats and Legacy Collection confirmed for Switch

Mega Man 11 has been announced for PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC for 2018.

It’s the first mainline Mega Man release since Mega Man 10 in 2010. The new game will be a side-scrolling 2D release but will feature 3D character models, which is a departure from the 2D sprites seen in other titles in the series. 11 also sees Mega Man changing his costume whenever he equips a new weapon.

The announcement comes ahead of what will be Mega Man’s 30th anniversary in 2018, and were revealed on a Mega Man focused livestream last night.

Capcom also announced that all eight Mega Man X games will be released for PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC some time in 2018. It’s not known whether they will be bundled or individual, or if they will be released physically as well as digitally.

As well as this, there will also be releases for both the Mega Man Legacy Collection and Legacy Collection 2 on Nintendo Switch. The former contains Mega Man 1 through 6, while the second included 7-10. Each had different developers (Backbone the first collection and Capcom the second), and we’re yet to discover who’ll be handling duties on the new releases.

Also confirmed is the addition of a rewind feature that will allow players to retry tricky sections. This will be included in the Switch version at launch, and will be added to existing versions for other formats via a patch.

Here’s a trailer for Mega Man 11:

Niantic is relaunching AR pioneer Ingress

“We’re ushering in a new chapter of the game for our passionate fans”

The creators of Pokemon Go have announced that they are taking another stab at its predecessor.

Ingress will be relaunched under the name Ingress Prime, featuring a new UI, new technology and a brand new story arc. The original game launched in 2012 and has been downloaded over 20m times. It’s broadly similar to Pokemon Go, albeit with a cyberpunk theme.

The new game will look significantly better than the first and will be hosted on the same platform as Pokemon Go, meaning updates and improvements can be rolled out to both simultaneously. It will also boast new augmented reality features designed to make better use of modern smartphone cameras.

“When Ingress first launched five years ago, we helped create a new genre of games that foster exploration, discovery, friendship, and exercise,” Niantic founder and chief executive officer John Hanke said.

“Ingress is the foundation of our real-world gaming platform and showcases our ability to create in-game and live experiences that can be a force for positive change in communities worldwide. With Ingress Prime, we’re ushering in a new chapter of the game for our passionate fans who have been with us since the beginning as well as the next evolution of the experience for those new to Ingress.”

There’s a very dramatic trailer for the game below. The new Ingress is due to roll out on iOS and Android in 2018. The company recently raised $200m in venture capitalist funding and has a Harry Potter AR game due out in 2018.

DayZ is still heading to PS4

“It'll just happen a bit later than the Xbox release”

Bohemia Interactive has confirmed that DayZ is still heading to PS4, despite the console not being mentioned in yesterday’s update.

It will, however, hit Microsoft’s console before arriving on Sony’s machine.

"In short, yes, we're still going to release DayZ for PS4," a rep told GameSpot. "It's mostly that we have the ability to do the Game Preview program with Xbox that has us choosing this platform for the first console release, and the partnership with Microsoft has been very productive so far.

“We're still excited to have DayZ in the hands of PS4 players, it'll just happen a bit later than the Xbox release."

Talk of a console release for the game dates way back to 2013, while a release on both machines was at one stage touted for 2014. DayZ was first officially confirmed for PS4 at Gamescom 2014, while an Xbox One release was not announced until E3 the following year. In 2015 the game was then delayed until 2016.

Yesterday, however, Bohemia pushed the console release back to 2018.

“Being candid is the core of the relationship we have as a studio with you, our community. That includes openly talking about things that we know will cause a lot of disappointment and negative feelings,” lead producer Eugen Harton said.

“I'll start right of the bat with one such thing: unfortunately, there will be no other major release this year.”

Harton added that while some of the changes the studio are working on are now “more settled”, others – such as vaulting, swimming and vehicles – are either “work in progress, or not implemented”.

“Although we are no longer waiting for any large technology implementation, there is still a lot of polish that we want to go through before we get it out. Realistically looking at the status of our internal build, and having about three weeks left in 2017, that is obviously not enough time to tackle all the things above,” he added.

“Let's just state the obvious: the PC beta is not coming before the end of 2017. We tried to get it done sooner, but it's going to be 2018 folks. That is as much as we are sure of yet. I'll be honest, it has been a long wait already - even for us - but that's all we got now.”

Bohemia also insists that the game is on track to hit consoles in 2018.

“As soon as the PC beta is headed in a way we like, we're still committed to bringing DayZ to Xbox, where we have a large community of gamers patiently (very patiently!) waiting for a truly hardcore online survival game,” Harton claimed. “All of that will (and must) happen next year - meaning we're just about to start what could possibly be the most exciting year for DayZ so far. In short: DayZ will be out of Early Access next year, and we'll also finally deliver it to console players in 2018.”

How relevant DayZ remains in 2017 (or even 2018) is hard to say. Certainly in an age where games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds can go from Early Access to full release (on the presumption it makes it this year) in nine months, DayZ’s protracted development feels like a relic.

Nvidia Shield gets official Nintendo support… in China

Zelda: Twilight Princess, Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros Wii and Punch-Out all announced

Nintendo is working with PC giant Nvidia to bring a range of Wii and GameCube games to the Nvidia Shield handheld.

The catch, however, is that the game are unlikely to ever officially appear outside of China.

Analyst Daniel Ahmad reports that the Shield will feature official ports of titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros Wii and Punch-Out. Metroid Prime is also apparently incoming.

How things such as motion control have been handled in the conversion we don’t know, although New Super Mario Bros will apparently run at 1080p – and the same is understood to be true of the other titles, too.

This all comes to be thanks to an official partnership between Nvidia, Nintendo and Chinese firm iQiyi.

The Shield itself will retail for RMB 1,499 (£169) in the country, while the Nintendo titles will sell for RMB 68 (£7.67) each. All of the official communications about the deal stress that it’s specifically for the Chinese market, so don’t go expecting Nintendo to roll out official PC support elsewhere in the world.

Saying that, Nintendo does have a bit of an emulation problem, which official support would likely address. Not only are the emulators available for its entire back catalogue of machines, but even Wii U games now run pretty smoothly on high-end PC gaming rigs thanks to the popular (and, it must be said, quite complicated) CEMU emulation software.

The CEMU community has put huge resources into getting things such as the Wii U version of Breath of the Wild running well on PC, for instance.

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Mail targets Detroit: Become Human over child abuse imagery

“The makers of this game should be thoroughly ashamed. I think it’s perverse”

The online arm of UK tabloid The Daily Mail has published a scathing article targeted at upcoming PS4 game Detroit: Become Human.

The game’s trailer shown off at Paris Games Week in October has already provoked plenty of debate, but the paper has – as you would expect – doused the fire with lots of provocative language and embellished descriptions.

“A video game depicting child abuse and domestic violence was condemned as ‘repulsive’ last night by MPs and campaigners,” the article reads. “In one harrowing scene, a girl aged about ten is heard screaming as her father apparently beats her to death in her bedroom.”

Much of the criticism seems to posit that games are purely a form of fun and escapist entertainment. The notion that a game – like a film or a book – may challenge a player by exploring social issues is entirely absent.

“Violence against children is not entertainment. It’s not a game. It’s a real nightmare for thousands of children who have to live through these kinds of scenarios,” Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen said in The Mail on Sunday. “The makers of this game should be thoroughly ashamed. I think it’s perverse. Who thinks beating a child is entertainment?”

Rantzen also calls for Sony to scrap the game’s release, or at least heavily censor it.

The NSPCC’s Andy Burrows added: “Any video game that trivialises or normalises child abuse, neglect or domestic violence for entertainment is unacceptable.”

Whatever you made of the trailer (and there are some very rightful criticisms of what was shown in Paris in the name of ‘marketing’), no-one has even suggested that the depiction of domestic violence in the game is either entertainment or trivialising the subject, no more than To Kill a Mocking Bird uses slavery to titillate the reader.

Cranking up the controversy, Peter Saunders from the National Association of People Abused in Childhood added to the paper: “Abusers will get off on this stuff and the other thing we know beyond question is that videos games end up being played by children and, scarily, the proliferation of salacious and abusive images is actually encouraging violence and abuse.

“And we know that abuse in all its forms is escalating on this planet so why not help to tackle it constructively rather than sensationalise and make money out if it?”

There was also word from Tory MP and chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Damian Collins, who again conflates video games with family fun: “It is completely wrong for domestic violence to be part of a video game regardless of what the motivation is. Domestic violence is not a game and this simply trivialises it. I worry that people who play this who themselves have suffered abuse will use this game to shape the way in which they deal with abusers.

“It’s dangerous to plant the seed in people’s minds that the way to deal with abusers is to use violence against them. It’s counter-productive and could put them in even more danger.”

David Cage has previously attempted to justify the scenes, although the online reaction to the comments suggest that a sizable number of people remain unconvinced. Few, however, would in 2017 sincerely argue that games by their nature should only apply to the pre-school market and that any deviation from this is a moral aberration.

Paladins introduces loot box system

“This is a major change that may be controversial, particularly given some recent questionable moves by full-price games”

Hi-Rez Studios is scrapping the in-game currency found in Paladins and is replacing it with a loot box system.

The Cards Unbound system works as you might expect, although it differs from some others in that it allows players to level up their cards by obtaining duplicates. The number of cards needed for this is not insignificant, either – levelling up a common card from Level 1 to Level 5 requires 42 cards, although more powerful cards require less.

The changes only apply to Quick Play, with Ranked Play locking all cards to Level 3. However, as Quick Play is the go-to mode for mode for learning new champions, those with weak decks face potential beatings while trying to learn the ropes – and from cards they won’t even face in the main game.

On the flip side, the game is now completely free-to-play with all cards immediately unlocked from the off.

“We get it: This is a major change that may be controversial, particularly given some recent questionable moves by full-price games,” the studio admitted. “We’re moving forward with this system because we believe it will make the game better for all of our players. We want to serve our players, and we’re confident that we can best do that with a more wide-open and fun QuickPlay mode, and a Ranked mode that is only affected by player skill.

“The vast majority of our players will never spend a dime. Regardless of how much money you have in your wallet, we want to make sure you have a great time. Our number one priority as we introduce Cards Unbound is that the free-to-play experience feels great.

“For those players who do choose to spend money on Paladins, we aren’t comfortable charging you for Card Chests until we have time to tune the economy after seeing real-world results (and we definitely anticipate adjustments).

“Therefore, upon the initial release of Cards Unbound, there will be no way to directly purchase Radiant Chests or Champion Card Chests with Crystals; they may only be unlocked via Gold or playing the game. We expect to allow Crystal purchases of those same Card Chests in OB65, but we may delay this.”

Doom VFR is now working on Rift, but without official support

“We don’t want anyone to have a bad experience on something we haven’t tested yet”

Oculus Rift owners were temporarily left out in the cold following last week’s launch of Doom VFR.

The VR shooter was only ever pitched as being for HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, but with so much cross-compatibility in modern VR, Rift owners fancied their chances. As it happened, however, the game did not support the headset at launch, despite working on VR headsets from other manufacturers like Lenovo.

The game has since been patched to support the Rift, although it sounds as if the changes came from Valve as opposed to the developers themselves.

“Our development team has focused on making the game look and play great on HTC Vive and PSVR platforms first,” an official statement read. “However, as we’ve always said, our goal with all of our VR titles is to bring them to as many platforms as possible and we continue to evaluate expanding these options.

“At launch, we are only supporting Vive and PSVR. While we’ve heard Steam has been updated to allow the game to be playable on Rift via a Beta, the development team has not yet had an opportunity to test, optimize, and refine the game for Oculus Rift. That is why the game was not playable on Rift immediately; we don’t want anyone to have a bad experience on something we haven’t tested yet.

“We understand Rift owners found this frustrating today, and we apologize for any confusion. Our goal is always to provide players the most stable and optimized experience on every platform we support.”

The PS4 version of Doom VFR has had a mixed reaction from critics. It currently sits at 67 per cent on Metacritic, with some hailing it as one of the best VR experiences and others lamenting its controls. Certainly fellow Bethesda release Skyrim VR has proved the more popular, with a current PS4 Metacritic of 78 per cent.

Bohemia commits to 2018 release for DayZ on Xbox One, beta release on PC

“We tried to get it done sooner, but it's going to be 2018 folks”

Four years after it was first released on PC, developer Bohemia Interactive has said that DayZ will exit beta and arrive on Xbox… next year.

“Being candid is the core of the relationship we have as a studio with you, our community. That includes openly talking about things that we know will cause a lot of disappointment and negative feelings,” lead producer Eugen Harton said.

“I'll start right of the bat with one such thing: unfortunately, there will be no other major release this year.”

Harton added that while some of the changes the studio are working on are now “more settled”, others – such as vaulting, swimming and vehicles – are either “work in progress, or not implemented”.

“Although we are no longer waiting for any large technology implementation, there is still a lot of polish that we want to go through before we get it out. Realistically looking at the status of our internal build, and having about three weeks left in 2017, that is obviously not enough time to tackle all the things above,” he added.

“Let's just state the obvious: the PC beta is not coming before the end of 2017. We tried to get it done sooner, but it's going to be 2018 folks. That is as much as we are sure of yet. I'll be honest, it has been a long wait already - even for us - but that's all we got now.”

Bohemia also insists that the game is on track to hit consoles in 2018.

“As soon as the PC beta is headed in a way we like, we're still committed to bringing DayZ to Xbox, where we have a large community of gamers patiently (very patiently!) waiting for a truly hardcore online survival game,” Harton claimed. “All of that will (and must) happen next year - meaning we're just about to start what could possibly be the most exciting year for DayZ so far. In short: DayZ will be out of Early Access next year, and we'll also finally deliver it to console players in 2018.”

How relevant DayZ remains in 2017 (or even 2018) is hard to say. Certainly in an age where games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds can go from Early Access to full release (on the presumption it makes it this year) in nine months, DayZ’s protracted development feels like a relic.

Call of Duty: WWII claims its fifth successive UK No.1

Switch release Xenoblade Chronicles 2 misses out on Top 10

Activision’s Call of Duty: WWII is aiming its sights on a possible Christmas No.1 after claiming the Top 40 UK top spot for the fifth week in a row.

That equals the 2017 record set down by fellow Activision release Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy, which also achieved five weeks on the trot at No.1. That game, incidentally, is back in the Top 10 after gaining six places.

The top five actually remain completely static this week, with FIFA 18 (No.2), Gran Turismo Sport (No.3), Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (No.4) and Assassin’s Creed Origins (No.5) rounding out the higher chart echelons.

Super Mario Odyssey recoups a couple of places to grab No.6, despite a drop in sales, while Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sales surge and propel the game 11 places to No.8. The only new release in the Top 40 is Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which can only manage No.19 on its debut week, although this is better than the No.28 achieved by its predecessor Xenoblade Chronicles X.

The overall UK software market is down 24 per cent after Black Friday, however.

Here’s the Top 10 in full for the week ending December 2nd:

  1. Call of Duty: WWI (Activision)
  2. FIFA 18 (EA)
  3. Gran Turismo: Sport (Sony)
  4. Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (EA)
  5. Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft)
  6. Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo)
  7. Forza Motorsport 7 (Microsoft)
  8. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo)
  9. Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar)
  10. Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy (Activision)

BBC announces new VR Hub and free VR Spacewalk app

“We’re focusing on a small number of high impact pieces that have broad, mainstream appeal”

The BBC has announced that its various VR ventures are to be all brought under one roof.

The new unit goes by the name of VR Hub. It will oversee its various projects including 360-degree video and VR add-ons to properties such as Planet Earth II.

To coincide with the announcement, the BBC has released a VR Spacewalk experience which allows users to explore the International Space Station, using their hands to pull themselves around the ship in zero gravity. It’s a free download on Steam (for Vive) and Oculus Home (for Rift).

“Today we’re also announcing our next steps in VR, with a studio spearheading our VR production and exploring how VR can create real audience impact,” head of VR content commissioning Zillah Watson said. “We act as a hub internally, working closely with our programme makers and digital experts. And over the coming months we’ll be creating pieces across the range of genres the BBC is famous for.

“Our research shows that for as long as the quantity of high-quality content remains low, and the experience remains cumbersome, mainstream audiences won’t use VR. That’s why we’re focussing on a small number of high impact pieces that have broad, mainstream appeal.

“We want to excite audiences by creating the most enthralling experiences imaginable using the power of VR. So with every commission, we will target a specific set of audience needs and occasions, ensuring that each piece is compelling enough to make people want to put on a headset.

“We believe the BBC can bring a unique perspective to VR. We have an unparalleled position in the lives of the UK population. Every week we reach 95% of the UK population and we have the most trusted broadcast news brand in the world, reaching almost 400m people through the BBC World Service alone.

“We can bring all of this to bear in the creation of VR. Having cracked every new content delivery mechanism since radio in 1922, we are excited about the potential of VR and the ways in which it could enrich the lives of our audiences.”

The BBC’s existing VR efforts include The Turning Forest for Google Daydream and Gear VR.

Amazon’s Alexa now integrates with Destiny 2

And it’s all voiced by Nolan North himself

In one of the more unusual tie-ins we’ve seen this year, Activision has announced some Destiny 2-related functionality for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.

Alexa will now respond to a variety of tasks with the prefix “Alexa, ask Ghost…” (Ghost being the game’s robotic AI assistant, for those not versed in the ways of Destiny). Commands include “Alexa, ask Ghost to equip my raid loadout” and “…tell me which friends are online”.

The answers will even be offered to you by the erstwhile voice of Nolan North, who voices Ghost (and pretty much every major male gaming character in the history of everything).

There’s also a limited-edition bit of actual kit in the form of a Destiny 2 Ghost speaker that is wi-fi enabled and will hook up with your Alexa setup. It releases on December 19th and costs £80. You can also buy it bundled with the Alexa Dot for £130. The speaker isn’t required to make it all work, although a copy of the game is.

“The Ghost serves as your guide and companion in Destiny 2 the game, and now players will be able to bring that experience into the real world with them through Alexa,” Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg said.

“The Destiny 2 Ghost skill is the first of its kind and the most innovative and immersive gaming experience to date on Alexa. We’re excited to give our community of players, who are among the most-dedicated fans in the world, new ways to play Destiny 2 with the Ghost skill and Limited-Edition Destiny 2 Ghost. The lines between in-game and out-of-game have been blurred in an incredible new way.”

Amazon Alexa VP Steve Rabuchin added: “Alexa is now part of the Destiny 2 experience, and we’re excited for what that means for Destiny 2 players and the future of games and voice technology.

“Gaming is an example of where voice can create a more engaging experience in a natural and delightful way for customers. Rather than interrupting gameplay to navigate menus, players can just ask Ghost through Alexa to help with certain tasks. Players love the Destiny 2 experience, and now Alexa can make it even more immersive and fun.”

Fortnite boasted bigger user numbers than PUBG in October

Although its revenue falls far short of Bluehole's hit

Epic’s Fortnite: Battle Royale won at least one battle against high-profile rival PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds last month.

New SuperData numbers show that Fortnight had a higher monthly active user count that PUBG throughout for October, thanks in no small part to the fact that it’s available on more platforms and is also completely free.

The latter, of course, means that Fortnite’s total revenue is “a fraction” of that boasted by Bluehole’s game, which costs £26.99 to download. Fortnite does now boast cosmetic microtransactions, though, so we’ll wait to see what impact that has.

Nonetheless, SuperData adds that Fortnite’s “long-term success vs its major and earlier-released rival is uncertain”, and that “the challenge will be converting its higher user base into spenders”. There’s also the fact that PUBG lands on Xbox One on December 12th and will leave Steam Early Access shortly after, while at the same time launching the new desert map.

Overall digital games revenue grew 15 per cent in October year-on-year, SuperData adds, reaching $8.5bn. This was driven by a 28 per cent jump in PC revenues thanks to the launch of Destiny 2 on BattleNet and, of course, PUBG, which had its biggest ever month, selling 5m units.

Mobile was also up, climbing 19 per cent thanks to titles such as Tencent’s Honour of Kings. Super Mario Odyssey was also the biggest ever digital launch on Switch, selling 191k units worldwide.

There was also success for digital single-player games, with South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Assassin’s Creed Origins collectively generating around $160m.

Sega reduces its full year forecast

Struggles in the pachinko business are apparently to blame

Japanese publisher Sega has lowered both its sales and profit forecasts for the current financial year.

It had initially predicted full-year net sales of $3.38bn and profits of $98.1m. However, those numbered have been revised down to $2.94bn and $44.6m respectively – those are drops of 13 per cent and 55 per cent.

Struggles in the pachinko business are apparently to blame, with sales now expected to come in some 30 per cent below forecasts.

Sega’s entertainment business – which houses games – is faring better this year, however, thanks to successful releases such as Sonic Mania and Total War: Warhammer 2. Overall game sale forecasts were only lowered by $44.5m to $1.9bn, while operating income for the unit is now expected to rise by 30 per cent.

“As to the entertainment contents business, strong performance is evidenced by operating income as of the end of the first half surpassing the previous full year forecast and such,” the company said.

"Although launch of new titles for digital games field might delay compare to initial plan, several new titles include mainstay titles are scheduled to be released in packaged games and amusement machine sales field of the entertainment contents business in the second half, operating income is expected to surpass the previous forecast."

Sega’s most recent release, Sonic Forces, has fared poorly with critics, gaining a lowly 58 per cent on Metacritic. It did win itself a couple of 8/10s, but has also been saddled with scores as low as 4/10.

All of which contrasts with this year’s successful Sonic Mania, which currently sits pretty on 86 per cent on Metatitic.

Tencent is making two PUBG mobile games

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds: Army Attack adds naval warfare to the equation

It turns out that Chinese gaming giant Tencent has bigger plans for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on mobile than we first thought.

Analyst Daniel Ahmad says that the company has not one but two PUBG games in development.

The first is called PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds: Army Attack and is being developed by Timi Studio. The trailer, which you can see below, seems to suggest the addition of naval warfare – we see not only a new boat type, but also mounted railguns, as well as what appears to be a coastal defensive turret. There’s also a peek at a huge navy warship and even helicopters.

The second game, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds: Battlefield, is made by Lightspeed & Quantum Studio, and looks a little more faithful to the current PC game. The trailer, which again you can see below, seems to suggest visuals that are slightly dialled down from the standard game.

Keen players will also notice some subtle geometry changes, such as the unfamiliar crated warehouses and a different layout for central town Rozhok. Also seen is blue blood, although whether that’s a mandatory or optional feature remains to be seen. On the plus side, additional effects seem to accompany the trail of the vehicles.

PUBG will launch on Xbox One on December 12th. The game is also tantalisingly close to leaving Early Access on PC. This morning marked the end of the second test phase for the 1.0 release version of the game on the test servers.

The final release looks incredibly promising, with a host of additions such as vaulting, a new UI, improved sound effects and altered weapon and vehicle handling. It also looks nicer, and seems to run smoother on most people’s machines.

We’ll also get our first glimpse of the new desert map in action at this month’s The Game Awards in the US.

 

Take-Two predicts a complete shift to digital in around 10 years

“That's the zeitgeist. Things are moving in that direction”

The idea of shipping video games on disc will be completely dead in around a decade.

That’s according to Take-Two president Karl Slatoff, who told the Credit Suisse Technology Conference that a purely digital future will arrive before too long.

"I think over the long-term, it will be 100 per cent [digital]," he said, as reported by Games Industry. "I just can't predict whether that's five years, 10 years, or 20 years. It's probably less than 20 and maybe more than five, but I think it ultimately gets there. That's the zeitgeist. Things are moving in that direction.

"Sony and Microsoft have done a really nice job with their services. You've got more people on Xbox Live, more people on PSN, and it helps. The friction is going away at a quicker rate because these platforms have been really well developed, and the consumers love it."

Slatoff also acknowledged, however, that for the time being, physical still represents the bulk of its business.

"The truth is physical retail is still the majority of our business, and very important partners of ours," he added. "And we want to do everything we can to support that environment. And we do. They're very strong marketing and distribution partners for us. But again, it's out of our control. Whether we want it or not, it looks like it's going to happen eventually."

Indeed, Activision earlier this month revealed that digital sales of Destiny 2 on consoles accounted for over 50 per cent of its total, setting a new record for the company.

EA CFO Blake Jorgensen at the same time told investors that the company was “very pleased and a bit surprised” at the strength of digital downloads for both this year’s FIFA and Madden, adding that “it's great to see the movement towards digital”.

A spiritual successor to Skate has breezed past its Kickstarter target

£46k funding goal passed in just four days

Session, a game that very much draws inspiration from EA’s much-loved Skate series, has smashed its Kickstarter target in just four days.

Skate 3 was famously republished and pushed back out to retail four years after its initial release after a starring role in a number of PewDiePie videos. Now Canadian studio Crea-ture is tapping into that same twin-stick control authenticity with a new title due out on Xbox One and PC in 2018.

Session has already raised £62k, which is well beyond its £46k funding target. Backers are being invited to vote on possible stretch goals – and with funding open until December 21st, there’s every reason to think they’ll hit a few of them.

“Inspired by the golden era of skateboarding, the early ‘90s and early 2000, Session's primary goal is to make you experience what skateboarding really is; an incredible sport where there are no other goals other than expressing your creativity and achieving success through hard work, perseverance and bits of madness for no one else other than yourself,” the pitch says.

“The main purpose of the game is to live the sport in its entirety. Feel what it is to be a talented street skater. Explore and tame the concrete, film yourself, your friends and share your footage on the internet with the worldwide skateboarding community.

“Session focuses on the authenticity of skating, both in the way the game feels and is presented to the player. Based on this philosophy, each feature makes the game even more innovative, fun and respectful to the skateboarding culture.”

Session won’t feature a scoring system as the developers don’t wish to “dictate which tricks are worth more”. Instead, players are encouraged to share footage of their skills online via the included video editor.

“Although we have already managed to secure some funds to bring Session to Steam Early Access and Xbox Game Preview, we felt that given a little more resources we could give Session that extra edge before putting it into your hands,”Crea-ture added.

“We know we still have a lot of work ahead of us and we need your support to bring this game to the next level. With your help and feedback, Session will become much more than just a skateboard game...”

EA says players don’t like linear games anymore

“People don't like as much today as they did five years ago or ten years ago”

The motivations behind the decision to close Visceral Games and kill its Star Wars title are again in the spotlight.

Speaking at the Credit Suisse Conference, EA CFO Blake Jorgensen said, as per Games Industry: “As we kept reviewing the game, it continued to look like a style of gaming, a much more linear game, that people don't like as much today as they did five years ago or ten years ago.

"We made the tough decision to shut down that game team and take the parts of that game, and today we're looking at what we're going to do with those. Will me make the game in a different style at a different studio? Will we use parts of the game in other games? We're trying to go through that today."

These comments don’t directly contradict previous statements, although they perhaps do sit a little uneasily alongside them.

“This truly isn’t about the death of single-player games — I love single-player, by the way — or story and character-driven games,” executive vice president Patrick Söderlund said in the aftermath of Visceral’s closure. “Storytelling has always been part of who we are, and single-player games will of course continue.

“This also isn’t about needing a game that monetizes in a certain way. Those are both important topics, but that’s not what this is. At the end of the day, this was a creative decision. Our job is to give people a deep enough experience and story, and it’s also to push the boundaries forward. We just didn’t think we were getting it quite right.”

It’s important not to conflate the terms ‘linear’ and ‘single-player’ here. Certainly online open-worlds are more typically associated with the sort of emergent sandbox experiences larger publishers tend to favour nowadays, but plenty off offline single-player experiences are anything but linear.

At the same time, linear gaming still very much has its place. Call of Duty is famed for its dramatic but undeniably linear single-player campaigns, for instance, while tightly-constructed linear experiences remain very much in fashion across assorted genres such as horror, platform and racing.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 cosmetic system discovered after EA said canon prevented it

“Darth Vader in white probably doesn't make sense”

A deactivated cosmetics system has been found hidden away in the PC version of Star Wars Battlefront 2.

A Redditor has found a currently inaccessible ‘change appearance’ option that allows various characters to rotate between as assortment of skins. The discovery itself would be of limited interest were it not for comments recently made by EA CFO Blake Jorgensen in defence of the game’s unpopular microtransaction system.

Polygon reports that Jorgensen, when asked why Battlefront 2 did not limit its loot boxes to cosmetic items (as is the practise with titles such as Overwatch and Rocket League), said that licensing concerns made it difficult.

“The one thing we're very focused on and they are extremely focused on is not violating the canon of Star Wars,” Jorgensen said at the Credit Suisse Annual Technology, Media and Telecom Conference. “It's an amazing brand that’s been built over many, many years, and so if you did a bunch of cosmetic things, you might start to violate the canon, right?

“Darth Vader in white probably doesn't make sense, versus in black. Not to mention you probably don't want Darth Vader in pink. No offense to pink, but I don't think that's right in the canon.

“So, there might be things that we can do cosmetically, and we’re working with Lucas[film] on that. But coming into it, it wasn’t as easy as if we were building a game around our own IP where it didn’t really matter. It matters in Star Wars, because Star Wars fans want realism. But Star Wars fans may also want to tailor things — a different colored lightsaber, things like that. So you might see some of that.”

The canon argument is a little tough to swallow when you consider that the game freely toys with canon all the time – it’s entirely possible to see Darth Maul of the prequels squaring up against Rey from the sequels, for instance. Plus, 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront already offered cosmetic options.

And it’s not as if Star Wars games have been afraid to play with the license in the past:

NIS America and Nihon Falcom on how to save the JRPG

The Japanese market is shrinking, according to the presidents of NIS America and Nihon Falcom, so what can developers do to ensure the future of their business?

When Nihon Falcom’s Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana ended Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s month-long reign at the top of the Japanese charts back in May, president Toshihiro Kondo was both surprised and impressed by the title’s performance. According to Famitsu, the RPG sold over 30,000 copies in just four days, marking the first time the series had risen so high up the Japanese rankings. 

“We never expected to beat Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, so we were really happy,” Kondo tells MCV. “Usually, our Trails of Cold Steel series is the one to take the top spot, and Ys had never done that before, so this time we were really surprised and pleased. 

“We took a lot of chances with it and changed a lot of things compared to previous titles in the series. The user reaction has been very good and it’s definitely paid off on the sales side, as both versions of the game on PS4 and Vita met and exceeded what we were expecting.”

When it came to bringing the title to the US and Europe, Nihon Falcom chose to work with NIS America instead of its usual publishing partner XSeed – and with good reason, too: “Actually, NIS America has approached us for several years now on various different titles, always with an enthusiastic proposal,” Kondo continues. 

“This time, of course, another enthusiastic proposal was received. However, within that, some of the key features were the French localisation – this was something that had never been proposed before – and the very detailed idea and plan for both marketing and for sales. This impressed us very much, so much so that we decided to go with NIS America this time.”

 

Pictured above: Nihon Falcom’s Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, published by NIS America, released in Europe in September

Indeed, NIS America president and CEO Takuro Yamashita confirms that France is now the company’s “biggest market” in Europe, making its localisation a highly profitable venture. “To speak very honestly, the [pre-order] numbers for Ys VIII actually reached 2.5x more in France than the UK,” he explains. “However, I’m very much convinced that the UK will catch up as well over time as people learn about the game and see the reviews.”

It’s not just Ys VIII that’s more popular in France, as NIS America saw the same thing happen in May with the Switch version of its own tactical RPG, Disgaea 5 Complete. The game hit 36,000 pre-orders in Europe, with France once again taking the biggest slice of the sales pie. As Yamashita told us at the time, it was the French localisation that sealed the deal.  

“To do translations into EFIGS (English, French, Italian, German and Spanish), we need to sell at least 10,000 units in the language that it’s been localised into,” Yamashita reveals. “So if that’s French, you need to sell 10,000 French units, if it’s German, you need to sell 10,000 German units.

"I feel the Japanese market has become very insular and Japanese companies really need to look outward in order to grow."

Takuro Yamashita, NIS America

“Only Square Enix really does that for its big titles. 15 years ago, when it was simply known as Square, they were the only ones willing to take a chance on the localisation of RPGs because of the volume of text. Obviously, because of that, the market was very small at the time. But with NIS America, we now want to take our larger titles like Ys and translate them into other languages.”

NIS America’s publishing partnership with Nihon Falcom may well continue beyond the release of Ys VIII, too, as Kondo says he “would love to continue working with NIS America on a broader front globally going forward.” He himself admits that while “we as a company are very good at making games, we’re not very good at PR for ourselves,” making it “necessary” to have a partner like NIS America when promoting their titles overseas.

Since the interview was conducted, issues have arisen with Ys VIII’s localisation. NIS America has recognised this, Yamashita apologised personally, and the company is working to fix the issue with a full review and revision of the translation, which should be available early next year.

SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE

Japanese developers are going to need all the help they can get publishing their games overseas, according to Kondo and Yamashita, as both feel their home market is only going to get smaller over the coming years. 

“In the west, the market is definitely increasing,” says Yamashita. “With giants like Square Enix and games like Persona 5, Disgaea 5, and of course Ys VIII and the Trails of Cold Steel games, it’s only getting bigger on this side of the western market.

“However, and I probably shouldn’t be the one saying this, but I do feel the Japanese market has become very insular, and going forward Japanese companies really need to look outward in order to grow. On the localisation side, English is obviously a must, and French as well. Ideally, EFIGS languages will do the best to help build up JRPGs again.”

Kondo agrees: “The Japanese market is exactly as Mr Yamashita described. Right now, there’s an issue with the lack of growth within the Japanese market, and the situation is such that to grow the current sales numbers by 1.5x or 2x, for example, is a very difficult task. It’s not simply a matter of improving the quality of the games to make them better, either. Even with that, it’s still very difficult to meet that financial or numerical goal.”

Pictured above: At launch, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana took Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s top spot in the Japanese charts

For Nihon Falcom, one solution has been to start selling physical PC versions of its games in China. “From there, it’s kind of spread throughout the rest of Asia, and that’s been a market for us for several years now,” Kondo explains.

“At the moment, Asian sales reach about half of what happens in Japan for any given title. So, as a company, one of our focuses going forward is to, of course, continue cultivating this market that’s emerged for us in Asia, as well as continue to cultivate and grow the markets that are emerging in North America and Europe. 

“I feel that, in the future, it might become the case where foreign sales are 1:1 with Japan, and beyond that may even begin to exceed sales in Japan. So rather than have just a negative outlook on the Japanese market, Nihon Falcom wants to look forward and continue to find partners like NIS America to work with to continue to grow their brands, not only in Japan, but globally as well.”

"There’s an issue with the lack of growth within the Japanese market. It’s not simply a matter of improving the quality of the games. Even with that, it’s still very difficult to meet that financial or numerical goal."

Toshihiro Kondo, Nihon Falcom

Yamashita is confident Kondo will be able to achieve this, too: “In Japan, Nihon Falcom’s titles are incredibly strong. Through the help of Sega, Atlus is perhaps thought of as No.2 after Square Enix in terms of the Japanese RPG market, but in Japan, Nihon Falcom is definitely the No.2 JRPG maker.

“In contrast, if you look at NISA titles, for example, it’s usually 4:1 on the side of foreign sales compared to Japan. It’s a general tendency. So the fact that Falcom sells much more in Japan shows there’s still a huge opportunity for Falcom in the west. Falcom is incredibly underrated in the west through a lack of knowledge from users, so our goal as NIS America and through our partnership with Falcom is to raise the awareness of their brands, so they easily come in right after Square Enix and to give them that global recognition that they deserve for their games.”

SWITCHING TO DIGITAL

That’s not to say NIS America isn’t looking after its own success, though. Despite having previously told MCV at Gamescom that it’s not a company that’s able to take a lot of risks, its bold decision to support the Nintendo Switch with Disgaea 5 Complete within months of the console’s launch has certainly paid off for the publisher. 

“Disgaea 5 originally came out on PS4 and then a year and a half later it came out on Switch and did very, very well,” says Yamashita. “Right now in the market, the PS Vita is obviously on its way out, but Switch is very strong. One thing in particular that makes it so strong is that it has that handheld function, so going forward as a company, we want to target PS4, Steam and Switch, because over the next two years, the Switch market is only going to grow and become stronger. 

“There’s definitely a feeling that Nintendo doesn’t want to lose to Sony. They’ve really changed their attitude, so I think the market will become very interesting going forward. We’ll continue to support the Vita digitally, but there’s a very strong chance the last physical title from us for it will be Ys VIII and Danganronpa V3.”

The publisher’s digital sales have been particularly strong since the launch of its online store, Yamashita continues. 

“Generally speaking, digital is about 30 per cent of all sales revenue,” he says. “But, and this is just the American numbers, around 25 per cent of sales revenue comes from our online store. Therefore, the combined total revenue share of sales is 55 per cent when you add the online store and digital together.”

Pictured above: NIS America started supporting the Switch by releasing Disgaea 5 Complete a couple of months after the console’s launch

In Japan, digital sales are growing but are less pronounced than they are in the west, as according to Kondo: “Japanese people still have a tendency to prefer physical goods.” As a result, he says, physical sales generally account “for more than 70 per cent of [Nihon Falcom’s] total sales.”

Despite this, releasing games on digital platforms like Steam continues to be a major pillar of both company’s publishing strategies. “If a game has already been a success on console or handheld, it stands to reason that it’s going to be a success on Steam as well,” says Yamashita. “That’s because you’ve already formed a bond of trust with the user.”

Kondo agrees: “For the Japanese market, at least, the fact that the games are on Steam isn’t really a big thing because there’s not really a market yet on Steam in Japan.

“However, I’m definitely aware that at least in North America, the percentage of people who play games on Steam and PC is very high. Originally, we would take our back catalogue from ten and twenty years ago and put them on Steam, but now it’s got to the point where we’re putting our new titles on Steam as well when they come out. Again, because of that really positive response we’ve had from the foreign market, especially in North America, it’s definitely changed our thinking and why we want to do more on Steam now. It’s only logical to continue to put more games on there.”

"For 20 years, JRPGs continued in a very positive direction. But for the last ten years, there have been a lot of voices in Japan saying that these games aren’t as good as they used to be."

Toshihiro Kondo, Nihon Falcom

As for Switch, Kondo is taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. “Traditionally, Nihon Falcom’s always been a PC developer that doesn’t really create games for the casual market, but for the really hardcore gamers. Where is that market today? The answer to that is PS4,” he says.

“The Switch is very successful right now, but there’s still no positive guarantee that the fan base that would play Falcom games are on the Switch yet. It’s always been very important to look and see where our users are, so while we thought it was more than likely that many of our fans actually owned a 3DS, one of the trends of PC users is that they prefer gadgets and machines with a higher spec, which is obviously something that Sony was offering. So after a really careful consideration of both sides, we decided it was more likely that the people who wanted to play the types of games we made would want to play them on a PlayStation platform.

“Things have been very strong for the Japanese handheld market recently, but even that market has shrunk drastically as well. Our strategy is to go forward on PS4, and then wait and see if fans want a handheld version.”

A BIG SEA CHANGE

One of the main forces behind Japan’s shrinking console market is, of course, the unstoppable rise of mobile. 

“One thing you can point to, of course, is smartphones,” says Yamashita. “Obviously because of that, you can see the sales of consoles, and games on consoles, are much less than they were prior to the advent of smartphones as a gaming platform. 

“Interestingly, if you look at the financial situation for most people in Asia, they might not necessarily have a big disposal income, but they do purchase more PS4 units than in Japan. So it seems the Japanese as a market are going more for these easy to pick-up-and-play-type games rather than traditional style games.”

For Kondo, however, there’s still a lot of merit in sticking to a slightly more old-fashioned way of making games: “Falcom has existed for 40 years now, and we’re called something of a traditional company,” he says. “But there’s a positive quality to tradition and to continue the quality of that tradition is important. The game industry as a whole has improved by having companies like Falcom carry on these traditions in JRPGs, because if you don’t maintain the quality of your games, no one is going to buy them.”

Pictured above: Trails of Cold Steel is one of Nihon Falcom’s most popular franchises 

It seems to be working, too, as this year alone we’ve seen critically-acclaimed titles such as Persona 5, Nier: Automata and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild all create a surge of new interest in Japanese games in the west, with each of them selling well over a million around the world just days after release. Kondo is confident this trend will continue as well.

“The very core of the JRPG comes from Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy,” he says. “For 20 years, JRPGs continued in a very positive direction. But for the last ten years, there have been a lot of voices in Japan saying that these games aren’t as good as they used to be.

“The situation has improved in the last five years with games like Persona, but having seen the games that have succeeded, it’s because the companies did only something they could do. You’ll notice that everyone else has faded into the periphery, so now you just have these developers who are very good at one particular thing that really shines through in the games that they make, and I think these creators are finally starting to recognise that. 

“Because of that, we’re right before something really great in terms of the revival of JRPGs. There’s still a lot of room for JRPGs to evolve, but I think we’re right before a big sea change, both in the quality of JRPGs and the reception of them. If you look carefully from the Nintendo Famicom days all the way up to the PS2 generation, you’ll see lots of really good, high quality, unique JRPGs, so the point is to go back to that again and revisit that, taking a stance that says ‘We’re going to make games that only we can make, just like we made in that time, and that could only have come from Japan.’ This will allow us to continue to fight on a global front and bring back JRPGs.”

Bungie promises more transparency after Destiny 2 XP scandal

“You have our commitment that we’re going to do a better job going forward”

Destiny 2 developer Bungie has pledged to be more open with fans after a period of growing unrest among its playerbase.

The developer last week admitted that the game was artificially suppressing the amount of XP gained in some activities. This was discovered after fans became suspicious that the rate in which their XP bar was progressing was not matched by the actual amount being accrued by their characters.

Bungie then admitted there was a secret system, confirming that it was reducing the points earned in easily grindable actions such as Public Events. Having then deactivated the system, however, it was then discovered that Bungie had doubled the XP requirements for levelling up.

Again, this was not openly communicated. It fell to the fans to reveal what had been done, with Bungie then confessing.

All of this is much worse when you remember that the game allows players to alleviate grind by spending cash in the in-game store.

“Our team has been reading… some tough criticism about our lack of communication, and we agree we need to be more open,” it has now said. “We know it’s frustrating when there isn’t enough of a dialog with the development team. You have our commitment that we’re going to do a better job going forward.

“Last weekend, we disabled a scaling mechanism that adjusted XP gains up and down without reflecting those adjustments in the UI. Our intention was to keep slower-paced activities as rewarding as high intensity grinding without confusing variations in displayed XP values, but the silent nature of the mechanic betrayed the expectation of transparency that you have for Destiny 2.

“We were able to disable the system with a server-side change, but a new solution is now needed to rebalance XP in Destiny 2. We have begun that work, and will continue to provide updates to you about timelines and specifics. Expect to see a lot of conversation from our team on this front, as XP rewards are updated and brought back in-line with player expectations.”

Star Citizen is selling land for up to $100

Did you know that one of the ships currently on sale costs $1,068?

Three years after it was first supposed to be released, in-development space epic Star Citizen is now trying to sell digital land to hopeful space explorers.

$50 will net players a 4km x 4km plot while $100 will grab an 8km x 8km space. Each will come with a ‘Geotack Marking Beacon’ which not only allows you to find home but also tracks the weather and alerts you to any unwelcome guests.

Land will apparently be obtainable with in-game currency for those who do not want to pay out real cash. In its FAQ the developer makes it clear that buying land now offers no tangible benefit over either buying it later or waiting until you earn it in-game. Instead, it says that an early purchase will simply aid development efforts – although with an astonishing $168m of crowdfunded money already in the pot, presumably things aren’t too threadbare at the Cloud Imperium Game offices.

“Due to the billions of square kilometres of available land over many planets and moons and of course as new Star Systems are introduced and explored, all players will have the ability to find and claim new ‘hot spots’ throughout the lifetime of the game,” the FAQ says for those who are worried about missing out on the best plots by not paying out.

“Also, every player can have their own reason for what could be the ‘best’ piece of land, while some may judge a plot of land based on the type and quantity of natural resources that it contains, others might be looking for proximity to trade routes, and others could simply look for a quiet spot with a beautiful vista. This – combined with the fact that there’s an enormous amount of real estate available – means that prospecting and the purchase of land are two pieces of a supply-and-demand equation governing how rapidly land of a distinct perceived value will come on the market.”

The conflict between the game’s protracted development and its desire to sell players things has stirred up plenty of unrest in the past. However, prices keep going up and people keep buying. One ship, the 890 Jump, is currently on sale for $1,068.

In 2015 Cloud Imperium strongly denied a report claiming that it was in a financial pickle.

It must be said though that for every cry of anguish from frustrated backers there’s plenty more who delight in the promise the game shows (Motherboard said of the game last month: “The space sim Star Citizen isn't a finished game so much as it is a collection of promises and dreams held together by impressive tech demos and gameplay videos”). There’s certainly no denying that the dream is one that plenty of people remain willing to invest in.

NewBay announces the team behind the new MCV

The new team will launch a brand new multi-platform MCV in early 2018

Last week NewBay announced that it would be merging its Develop and Esports Pro brands with MCV to create a single, specialist brand to better serve the evolving UK games industry.

Today we're excited to unveil the team that will make the new MCV a success.

We've assembled our best and most experienced writers to form the new MCV. The four-strong editorial team has a huge pool of experience in order to bring you the best industry content. A single, large team will also make the new MCV more flexible, able to focus its efforts on a single event or story, or spread out to provide broader coverage.

Seth Barton will be leading the new team: "I'm setting out an ambitious strategy that will engage with the industry across digital, social, print and events - all of which we consider key platforms to facilitate communication, best practice and growth in the industry." Seth ran Expert Reviews, has written for Wired, Metro and PC Pro, and worked in games publishing at the BBC.

Jem Alexander, previously Editor of Develop, will continue to champion the UK's development talent. "I am super excited to be a part of the new team. It's a fantastic opportunity to bring the heritage and philosophy of Develop to this new format and deliver it to an expanded audience throughout the games industry." Jem has worked for Riot Games, Square Enix and PlayStation, and is currently writing games too.

"I'm setting out an ambitious strategy that will engage with the industry across digital, social, print and events - all of which we consider key platforms"

Seth Barton, MCV

Jake Tucker moves over from running Esports Pro. "For as long as I've been working in games, MCV has been a pillar of the industry. I'm excited to be bringing my experience on Esports Pro to the new MCV, while also reporting within a wider business remit." Jake has previously written for Vice, TechRadar, PCGamesN, PC Gamer, Eurogamer and many, many more.

Marie Dealessandri will be working across all sectors, putting her strong feature-writing skills to use on the new brand: "I’m very much looking forward to working on this brand new, united MCV, alongside a triple-A team. Having our three flagship brands under one banner provides for an exciting opportunity to further develop and demonstrate our expertise and I can’t wait to get started."

This experienced team will enable MCV to cover every aspect of a rapidly evolving industry while maintaining focus and deeper insight, providing data, analysis and a platform for healthy debate in order to help the industry flourish. The new team are keen to get out of the office as well, so if you want them to come and visit your business then please do get in touch!

The new MCV will launch in early 2018, and we're looking forward to sharing more with you about our exciting plans for the brand.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please get in touch with a member of our senior team, listed below.

Seth Barton, Editor, MCV, sbarton@nbmedia.com
Sophia Jaques, Games Sales Manager, sjaques@nbmedia.com
Caroline Hicks, Marketing and Events Director, chicks@nbmedia.com
Mark Burton, Managing Director, mburton@nbmedia.com

FoxNext reveals X-Files game

Free-to-play mystery investigation will coincide with new TV series

The 11th season of the X-Files TV show will be accompanied by a smartphone game.

It’s called The X-Files: Deep State and is coming from FoxNext, which is the publisher behind the new Marvel Strike Force game which was announced in the wake of the confirmed closure of Marvel Heroes.

The game is described as a ‘free-to-play mystery investigation’. Activities include evidence gathering, witness interrogating and puzzle solving, with the moral decisions of the players said to impact the story.

New cases will be added to the title on a monthly basis. Like the show, there will be an over-arching conspiracy narrative as well as ‘monster-of-the-week’ style episodes.

‘Fan favourite’ characters will appear, although whether they will indeed be the actual favourites remains to be seen. However, with the in-game events taking place between seasons 9 and 10 there might be a chance.

The X-Files: Deep State, a mobile is due out on iOS and Android in early 2018. A countdown on the official site tends to suggest February 6th might be the day. The new TV series is scheduled to arrive on January 3rd 2018 – a year which marks the brand’s 25th anniversary.

Fox announced its new gaming division in February. It is headed up by Salil Mehta, who was most recently president of content management for Twentieth Century Fox Film, and will report to CEO and chairman of Fox Networks Group Peter Rice and chairman and CEO of Twentieth Century Fox Film Stacey Snider.

FoxNext merges the groups responsible for games such as Alien: Isolation and The Simpsons: Tapped Out mobile title into one interactive unit. "Extending our storytelling to new platforms in new ways is a constant focus for us as we look to build more touch points with consumers every day," Snider said atm the time.

"Building on the momentum we've already seen in this area via the Fox Innovation Lab, FoxNext represents a natural next step in defining our long-term vision in this arena. Salil is quite simply the perfect executive to build this group into what we know will be an industry leader.”

Gazillion officially closed, Marvel Heroes shut down

“Marvel Heroes Omega will be sunset immediately on all platforms”

It is now official – developer Gazillion Entertainment is no more.

Its death also brings with it the immediate closure of Marvel Heroes.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the closing of Gazillion Entertainment,” a statement read. “As a result, we are no longer able to operate Marvel Heroes Omega until December 31 as originally planned. Instead, Marvel Heroes Omega will be sunset immediately on all platforms and will no longer be available as soon as this process is completed.

“The company would like to sincerely thank its fans and employees for all the support over the years of development and live service.”

The writing appeared to be very much on the wall last week. The game’s termination had been confirmed the week before, at which time it was claimed that it would continue to operate until the end of the year. It quickly transpired, however, that the studio has effectively already been closed.

Furthermore, as per an apparent leaked memo from Gazillion CEO Dave Dohrmann, it was said that funding had been yanked from the studio and that all staff have already been laid off – and without their severance, promised benefits and accrued holiday pay.

Some players who sunk money into the game since its release only a few months ago are demanding refunds, owing to the little return they got from their microtransaction spend.

Marvel Heroes originally released in 2013. It was a free-to-play action RPG title supported with microtransactions. A console version for PS4 and Xbox One arrived under the name Marvel Heroes Omega and was released in the summer. Gazillion signed a 10-year exclusivity deal to produce Marvel games in 2009.

 

EA share dip wipes $3 billion from publisher’s value

"Battlefront II is the pointy tip of the iceberg”

The Star Wars Battlefront 2 controversy is hitting EA’s bottom line.

CNBC reports that the company’s share price is down 8.5 per cent so far this month, wiping around $3bn off its value. In contrast, its larger rivals have seen share prices increase, as have the wider markets.

It’s not yet entirely clear how well the game has sold. The game’s UK week one physical sales were down 61 per cent compared to its predecessor, although how much of that is accounted for by the increase in digital buying is unknown. Certainly, though, the game so far remains outside of Amazon.com’s 2017 Top 100 best-selling video games items.

Stifel analyst Drew Crum told investors over the weekend that his firm was “underwhelmed by sell-through for Star Wars: Battlefront II (EA) over the Black Friday weekend”.

However, the site speculates that the largest concern is not necessarily the success of Battlefront 2, but instead the wider implications for EA’s microtransaction strategy in the future.

Cowen's Doug Creutz said: "Battlefront II is the pointy tip of the iceberg… We think the time has come for the industry to collectively establish a set of standards for microtransactions implementation, both to repair damaged player perceptions and avoid the threat of regulation."

There have certainly been noises from regulators about possible intervention under gambling laws, although the UK Gambling Commission has indicated that this may perhaps be unlikely. Trade bodies such as Ukie, PEGI and the ESRB have also shown little appetite for change.

Indeed, just this weekend, EA CFO Blake Jorgensen was telling a conference audience that EA retains belief in the microtransaction model.

"We're not giving up on the notion of microtransactions," he said, as reported by Games Industry. "We're learning and listening to the community in terms of how best to roll that out in the future, and there's more to come as we learn more. But I would say we're certainly not changing our strategy.

“We think the strategy of deeply engaging games, keeping the community together, and allowing people to play those games with new content coming via events over time is critical to the future of our business. We feel like we've nailed that in the sports games, and we'll continue to try and find the best model that works in the non-sports games."

Is Sony DADC the great European solution?

DADC is diversifying and has chosen a Brit to head up its latest division. We talk to Chris Spearing about the company’s enviable reach

How much do you know about Sony DADC? Did you know that it stands for Digital Audio Disc Corporation? Or that its first work was on Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. in 1983, or that its distribution centre in Enfield was destroyed during the 2011 riots? Maybe not, but the chances are you do know that Sony DADC makes discs. Lots and lots of discs.

Now unless you’ve been living in a cave since the 2011 riots, and who could blame you, then you’ll probably be aware that physical disc sales of games, movies and music don’t have a clear future. So DADC is expanding its business, starting with video game peripherals, and it’s got industry veteran Chris Spearing, previously at PDP and Logitech, among others, to head-up its new consumer sales division as vice president. We sit down for tea with him to have to talk about the company’s new direction and how it can offer pan-European services that other distributors simply can’t. 

Why has a disc manufacturer decided to expand into other areas?

Sony DADC is a huge distributor that offers lots of services across Europe. It’s the disc replicator for PlayStation games, DVDs and music CDs, for which it provides packaging and logistics. They get shipped to retailers all over Europe, that’s the core business.

But as you’re aware the physical disc business is a little more challenging these days, so what else can you do with all these physical distribution services? If you’re already shipping PlayStation games to large retailers then why not add other things in there as well, such as video game accessories?

"We’ll start with a smaller product offering and grow fast. We are looking for other brands as well. We want a nice offering that fits together well."

Chris Spearing, Sony DADC

So the company is diversifying into new areas?

I’m starting the new consumer sales division. It’s a startup within a large company, which is wonderful. I’m having huge support, everyone is excited about something new. There’s a lot of diversification conversations going on at the moment and this is the first one that’s real. I’ve turned up, I’m hiring people, and everyone is saying: ‘this is wonderful, what do we need to do, how can we help you?’. 

Dreamgear is the first company onboard, how did that deal happen?

Dreamgear is a North American business, it’s a big player in the market there, and its new accessories brand, Bionik, is now coming to market for the first time globally. It’s transforming its business from what was Dreamgear packaged product into this more premium Bionik brand. 

I’ve seen the product, it looks high quality, and Switch is obviously a big opportunity for peripheral and accessories manufacturers...

Switch is a great opportunity, and we’re working with PlayStation as well. We want to support Sony companies obviously, but we’re also carrying products for other consoles. We’re starting with Dreamgear as it didn’t have a big presence in Europe. It had taken some orders and products were going into market from its MyArcade brand, but that was it. We’ll start picking up some of that and with the new Data East license that’s getting quite serious now, retro is growing and becoming its own category. We’ll play a part in that.

"DADC has been doing all the heavy lifting in the background, but now we can really offer a end-to-end full solution."

Chris Spearing, Sony DADC

So you’re helping a US company crack the European market, rather than the other way around?

It’s very, very difficult for a US company to say ‘we want to get into Europe.’ What do you do? There’s the UK, France, Germany, all big markets, you can go and hire some people and start it, but you’ve got to talk to a hell of a lot of distributors. They’ll always tell you they can do lots of things. Whether they’ll do it or not is another thing. Can you manage that from the US? No you can’t. 

It’s very, very complicated. Different cultures, different languages, different relationships. Business is all about relationships and you can’t do that if you’re on a different continent and time zone.

So this is more than just logistics then?

This is the first time Sony DADC is having a direct to retail sales team essentially, because all the sales of all the products that Sony DADC distributes are being sold by Sony Music, by EA, by numerous publishers. 

DADC has been doing all the heavy lifting in the background, but now we can really offer a end-to-end full solution. That’s pretty amazing, no one else can do that anyway, let alone pan-European. This is the difference.

The potential is massive then?

Yes, huge. I’m in a startup phase, I’m staffing up, we’re bringing these brands to market, and we’ve talked to huge retailers across Europe. And they have been very positive. Everything we had coming in for Christmas was pre-sold. 

"I want to make it easy for brands. We know that Europe is complicated, you just want to be successful. How do you do it? You can only talk to me."

Chris Spearing, Sony DADC

How many countries are you starting out in?

Our original plan was a UK and Spain launch, but we’ve got people from all the other countries around that want to buy now. We can’t do everything in one go, so we’re spreading the product a bit thinner, but we want to get into those markets as quickly as we can. Get established and grow out from there. We’ll start with a smaller product offering and grow fast. Starting with Dreamgear, we are looking for other brands as well. It doesn’t just have to be in the games accessories space. We don’t want conflicting brands, we want a nice offering that fits together well. We’re talking to some brands in the video game space, talking to some brands outside of that space as well, consumer electronics, collectible figures. If we’re shipping PlayStation games for publishers, or DVDs or music, into those retailers then what else can we ship?

So what kind of deals are you looking to make?

What I really want is pan-European, to take over representing those brands in Europe. That’s warehousing, logistics, sales, PR, the full package, all in one. That sets us apart from the local distributors in most cases, the fact that we are talking so broad across Europe. 

I was speaking to a large US brand, who asked: ‘With the business we’re doing in the US, what should be the split between US and Europe?’ I said they should be looking more at 50/50 though it takes time to build that. And their European business is significantly smaller than that, so they know they are under indexing.

It’s those relationships, you can’t sit in the US and UK and say ‘we’re going to conquer France tomorrow’, it doesn’t work like that, you have to have local people who can do those deals.

I want to make it easy for brands. We know that Europe is complicated, whether you’re in it or not, you just want to be successful. How do you do it? You can only talk to me. 

YouTube faces new advertiser exodus

Controversy over child exploitation sees fresh wave of big brands abandoning video platform

Leading video platform YouTube has found itself yet again suffering a wave of advertiser unrest.

The Guardian reports that companies such as Cadbury, Mars, Lidl and Adidas have pulled advertising from the site amid concerns about troubling comments left on videos featuring children. Some of these are explicit and some even encourage children to post videos of themselves performing inappropriate acts.

The problem was recently unearthed by Buzzfeed, since when YouTube claims to have pulled over 150,000 videos and banned over 270 accounts.

This comes on the back of a scathing report earlier this month which lifted the lid on a network of accounts uploading an assortment of content that appears to be designed to deliberately upset younger viewers – much of which was evading YouTube’s filtering system and making it as far as the YouTube Kids app.

“We are shocked and appalled to see that our adverts have appeared alongside such exploitative and inappropriate content,” a Mars spokesperson said. “We have taken the decision to immediately suspend all our online advertising on YouTube and Google globally. Until we have confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place, we will not advertise on YouTube and Google.”

Adidas added: “We recognise that this situation is clearly unacceptable and have taken immediate action, working closely with Google on all necessary steps to prevent this from happening again.”

This is the second big advertiser scare YouTube has faced this year. The Google-owned company faced trouble in March after awareness grew of the racist hate speech that has become alarmingly common among some of its top stars. Gaming was been hard hit by controversies including the likes of PewDiePie and JonTron, although of course the problem of games pundits espousing extreme right wing views had been around for some time.

Then the likes of PepsiCo, Walmart, Dish, Starbucks, McDonalds and GM all pulled their ads and major advertising networks demanded discounts from YouTube. Furthermore, the yanking of YouTube advertising had a wider effect on Google's entire ad network, with many companies defaulting back to just targeted search advertising as they no longer trust Google's ad algorithms.

PlayStation price cuts deliver on Black Friday but PS Plus is the focus 

The focus of new president can be seen in announcement on hardware sales

Sony's Eric Lempel appeared on CNBC in the US to hail last weekend as "the biggest Black Friday in Playstation history," adding that "we sold more consoles than we ever have in our 22 year history."

That all came off the back of aggressive price cuts on console bundles - similar to those seen in the UK over the weekend that propelled software sales to 2017 highs. PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro and PlayStation VR all saw significant price cuts. Sony wanted to get more hardware in the hands of consumers and it looks to have succeeded massively.

The choice of spokesperson was telling though, as Lempel is head of the PlayStation Plus subscription service, which also was discounted, and he was keen to talk it up as an essential part of the experience.

"Plus is a natural addition to that [console] purchase, we want to add value to the consumer … we wanted to make sure that they went in, they bought a console and they also bought Playstation Plus, because they'll get a lot of value out of that service with their new console purchase."

Selling discounted hardware, and taking a hit on bundled software (such as newly released titles such as Call of Duty WWII) is far easier to stomach if you're also signing consumers up to long-running subscriptions in order to play those games online, plus taking a cut of any microtransactions.

While PlayStation Plus has been around for seven years, Sony is keen to ape the likes of Netflix, in terms of building subscriber numbers, and other major games publishers, in pushing in-game content sales. 

A renewed focus on this digital strategy can clearly seen in the choice of its new president John (Tsuyoshi) Kodera, who previously helmed Sony Network Entertainment International, making him in charge of deploying and monetising network services and content - including games, video and music. 

Publishers have previously told MCV, that although the console has a strong lead in terms of installed units, digital sales of games on the console could be improved, something that some have attributed to the positioning of the Store on the interface.

It will be interesting to see how Sony develops its various digital offerings, though the recently-launched new PlayStation app gives us some direction, moving to a Facebook-style news feed, into which marketing activity can be inserted between user-created content.


 

Tencent and Bluehole are bringing PUBG to mobile in China

The studio and the publisher said that the title will release on mobile “in the near future” as development is going “smoothly.”

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds will get the mobile treatment in China, Tencent revealed yesterday.

This announcement comes on the back of Tencent securing PUBG Chinese exclusivity last week. But it now looks like the Chinese giant will publish and distribute more than the PC version, as it announced in a blog post (in Chinese) that it was working with developer Bluehole on a mobile version.

In the post, a joint statement from the studio and the publisher indicates that the title will release on mobile “in the near future” as development is going “smoothly.” The announcement also says they’re working towards matching the original title’s core gameplay.

Tencent having previously announced that PUBG will be tweaked to “accord with socialist core values, Chinese traditional culture and moral rules”, it’s likely the mobile version will get the same treatment and it sounds very unlikely that it will be anything like the original title.

PUBG recently hit the 21m units sold, claimed seven Guinness World Records and grabbed two Golden Joystick awards (Best PC and Best Multiplayer). It’s coming out on Xbox One as Game Preview title on December 12th (both physically and digitally).

A GAME of two halves - we talk to CEO Martyn Gibbs about its full year results

GAME’s full year financial results are in, and although the company had another testing year, its momentum now looks pretty promising

We’re coming to the end of the financial results season. It’s not as glitzy as awards season, but then it’s hard to organise a big party without a bag of cash. 

As far as the UK games industry goes, GAME’s full year results are key, as the health of the company has a far broader knock-on effect than any individual publisher or platform holder’s figures. We talk to CEO Martyn Gibbs about the latest figures, which cover the year up to July 2017, and more recent developments. Developments that took a further twist today when GAME sold the digital arm of its Multiplay bunsiness to Unity, in order to concentrate on its events and esports business.

SEASONAL WOE

We have to start with last year’s disappointing Christmas, which was responsible for the £10m loss that the company posted for the year as a whole. Its gross transaction value (GTV) figure was down by 2.4 per cent in H1. Key titles underperformed and GAME remains highly reliant on those big titles firing on all cylinders. So we ask Gibbs whether the publishers have got it right this year?

“In terms of Call of Duty, absolutely. The game has been well received, we’re delighted with the market performance of the title, and we think Activision has done a really good job,” he replies, which resonates with sales figures for the franchise that have more than doubled this year.

However, some other ‘big franchises’ haven’t been quite as impactful, so we want to know whether the pack was trailing behind a little more this year.

“I think that’s fair,” Gibbs says, adding: “It’s nothing different from what we forecast, though. I think in terms of our forecast accuracy, every title that has come out has been very good. There’s been a couple that have pleasantly surprised but we’ve forecast exceptionally accurately for what’s launched up to today.”

Moving forward we try to gauge the impact of next year’s Red Dead Redemption, is it the biggest title for early next year? “Undoubtedly, and we’d love a date for Red Dead, the anticipation for the title is significant.” 

But is it on a Call of Duty scale in terms of pre-orders? “I’d be leading the market if I answered that, but we expect it to be the most material title of next year.” By which Gibbs means that its success will have a big impact on GAME’s results. 

"We expect Red Dead Redemption 2 to be the most material title of next year"

SWITCH ON

The second half of the year was far rosier, with GTV up by 6.6 per cent in H2. The key reason for that was Switch. The stock situation this Christmas is something that will have a direct impact on the bottom-line, not only for GAME and big publishers but for the many indies that have flocked to the console’s eShop digital store.

In terms of Christmas, Gibbs says: “We’ve got enough Switch coming in on a week-by-week basis, Nintendo needs to take some real credit operationally for how they’ve managed to work this through.” 

Although he won’t share actual numbers, he continues: “We’ve now got a constant supply of stock coming into the business on a weekly basis, Don’t get me wrong I don’t have a [distribution centre] stuffed full of 100,000 units, but we do have a good, regular supply from Nintendo.”

That begs the question of whether it will still be on shelves in a few weeks time, to which Gibbs replies: “The only reason that we wouldn’t see [stock] is if demand picks up any further, but I wouldn’t see that as a bad thing.” 

With Super Mario Odyssey out, we might have hit peak Switch demand for the year already. But Gibbs doesn’t agree.

“I’m not sure on that, it’s probably going to be the No.1 tech-toy for peak. So I think across those two spectrums and across such a wide-ranging base of gamers who all want to play Nintendo Switch, we’re clear it’s got great demand. I don’t think we’re anywhere near the absolute peak of that demand yet.”

So it’s some good news for those putting their eggs in Nintendo’s basket, in that stock is now much improved and constant. However, the massive popularity of the console may well still outdo even those shipments. Either way, GAME expects to move a lot of units over the next few weeks and that’s great news for everyone.

"I don’t think we’re anywhere near the absolute peak of Switch demand yet"

BELONG TOGETHER

Away from its traditional business of selling boxed games and console hardware on the High Street, GAME has been making good progress.

“Our digital and non-console retail sales grew by 24 per cent and they now contribute about 30 per cent of our group GTV. The launch of Belong has been really encouraging. We have 18 gaming arenas now, 17 have opened in the last 12 months and we’re aiming to get to 35 operational by the end of the full year 2018,” says Gibbs.

While the Belong gaming arenas are still a small part of the mix for GAME, they are evidence that the company is moving in the right direction, trying to engage its customer base with more than just game sales. 

The new arenas need the correct sites, though, Gibbs tells us: “Our main limiting factor is finding the right sites and the right locations in the right towns and cities. We have an enormous programme of work going on around our lease renegotiations. Bristol is a great example, we closed two of the stores and we opened up a 4,500 square foot Belong and GAME, where Belong is about 2.5k square feet.”

And that feeds into another big area for GAME in the coming year: “We’ve got a real focus on property, and the reason for that is we’ve got an immense amount of lease events, where we can renegotiate our leases with our landlords. We’ve got 221 UK lease events coming up in 2018, out of 305 stores – that’s 70 per cent of the estate up for lease renegotiation. It gives us an immense amount of flexibility to get the right deals. But also where we need to close some stores and open up some stores it gives us the opportunity to do that.”

SHIFTING GEARS

And while the shift to digital continues, it’s been the shift from High Street to online for physical games that is arguably more important to GAME in the near future. We ask why the company doesn’t separate online sales?

“There’s a real reason why we don’t split the numbers out – it’s very convoluted where you put the transaction number, what with click-and-collect and click-and-reserve, etc. We’re one happy family in terms of omnichannel delivery, rather than looking at each individual channel. We’re really pleased with the development of all our online offer, ecommerce, mcommerce, our app... All of those activities are showing really great growth for us. Our online activity is one of the thing we’re most proud of in terms of the stepchange we’ve made over the last 12 months.”

GAME ON

With this Christmas looking far rosier than last, the Switch effect, and the ability this year to further economise on store costs and further diversify into new areas, GAME looks to be heading in the right direction and strategically it should all come together in 2019. 

“I think we’re on a  journey, transforming our business from a multichannel retail business into a business that is delivering gaming services and experiences that includes retail. We’re not at the start of that journey, we’re well into it,” Gibbs says.

“2019 is our real focus because by then we will have reorganised that store estate, we will have made significant savings on property costs, our costs will come down, and by that point Belong will have some real materiality to us. We’re going to work super hard over the next 12 to 18 months to make sure we get to 2019 in a really good position for the business.”

GAME sells Multiplay Digital to Unity

 "By divesting Multiplay Digital we simplify the Group and focus management on accelerating development plans to fully capitalise on the strong growth potential in our exciting and growing esports activities," GAME CEO Martyn Gibbs said.

Unity has acquired GAME’s Multiplay Digital business for £19m, the High Street retailer announced this morning, with an initial transaction of £17.1m and £1.9m in escrow for 19 months.

GAME initially acquired Multiplay in March 2015 for £20m. The company runs Insomnia and GAME’s Belong arenas, with Multiplay Digital being the firm’s server hosting division, which includes hosting Tripwire’s Killing Floor 2, Bohemia’s DayZ, Respawn’s Titanfall 2 and Ready at Dawn’s Deformers.

Multiplay’s events and Belong arenas will remain under GAME’s remit.

GAME CEO Martyn Gibbs commented: "This transaction is a significant strategic step forward for GAME Digital. By divesting Multiplay Digital we simplify the Group and focus management on accelerating development plans to fully capitalise on the strong growth potential in our exciting and growing esports activities, including Belong. We now look forward to further developing GAME Digital as we seek to combine multichannel retail, events and esports.”

He continued: "We are delighted to have transacted with such a strong new owner for our Multiplay Digital business and its highly talented team."

This emphasis on GAME’s esports activities is in line with what Martyn Gibbs told MCV in last week’s issue, saying that “the launch of Belong has been really encouraging” and that the firm was “aiming to get to 35 operational [gaming arenas] by the end of the full year 2018.”

Earlier this November, GAME reported a pre-tax loss of £10m for the year ending July 2017, but its BELONG and Multiplay esports business saw sales grow 116.4 per cent to £13.2m, the bulk of which came from Multiplay, sales from which more than doubled. Meanwhile, Multiplay Digital reported a loss of £800,000.

Earlier this year, we talked to the team at Multiplay, who discussed their 15 years of experience in hosting games and enthused about Titanfall 2’s success.

Telltale: “Right now, our work is about elevating the brand, in and of itself”

Telltale is entering a TV-like production model. We talked to the company about its new strategy just before announcements were made to radically downsize its workforce.

Shortly after conducting this interview, Job Stauffer, head of creative communications at Telltale, left the company. As did approximately a quarter of the workforce in what Telltale described as a “comprehensive company restructuring.”

Pete Hawley, CEO, said in a statement: “The realities of the environment we face moving forward demand we evolve, reorienting our organisation with a focus on delivering fewer, better games with a smaller team.” With an increasing number of titles, across an increasing number of franchises, the company could arguably be more focused in its releases – although the staffing announcement didn’t bring with it any immediate
title cancellations. 

The company added in a statement that it wanted to be “more competitive as a developer and publisher of groundbreaking story-driven gaming experiences.” And there’s no doubt its model, unchanged though it is for now, is still groundbreaking. 

Pictured above: Job Stauffer, former head of creative communications at Telltale

As Stauffer told us, the company has “owned episodic since its inception.” Where other publishers have tried and failed with the episodic model, Telltale has singlehandedly transformed the way these types of games are delivered on digital platforms. 

“Having episodic development and live development in your DNA from the get go has been key for us,” said Stauffer. “Obviously, some developers might be trying episodic with a different form of gaming, but we’re doing it in our own storytelling language – the language of cinema. But it feels more like TV and an interactive series that you might find on Netflix or HBO. Just the nature of what we do has set us up since the beginning to be leading in this space and we’re very proud of that.”

Going forward, Telltale has its sights set on an almost TV-like production structure, with yearly instalments of its games to help keep the momentum going on its current franchises – a trend that’s already in motion with the recent release of Batman: The Enemy Within. That now looks to be accompanied by a more focused release schedule.

“We wrapped up the first season of Batman earlier this year, and we’re now following that up with another season this year,” said Stauffer. “It feels a lot like what we set out to do – have series run like television. That’s not to say we’re immediately running into ten more seasons of Batman, but I think we have a lot of creative momentum within the team and a lot of ideas that we have left on the table. 

“Right now, our work is about elevating the Telltale brand, in and of itself, and how we’ve come into our own as more of a kind of interactive TV network and a studio that’s really doing something different where we’re writing and designing and releasing content on a regular basis across multiple different genres, whether that’s apocalyptic undead drama like The Walking Dead, a family-driven comedy adventure like Minecraft, or sci-fi action like Guardians of the Galaxy. 

"Right now, you’re used to seeing five episodes come out per series, and even something as simple as that could change very soon."

Job Stauffer

“To have this footprint now that sits firmly between video games and premiere narrative entertainment – something between video games and HBO and Netflix – that’s what we’re really proud of and how we’ve grown out right across everything.

“We don’t want to talk too much about what’s coming beyond – what’s next is finishing up Batman, the first half of 2018 will see the final season of The Walking Dead, the second half will see The Wolf Among Us 2. Will there be other creative partnerships with existing partners? Absolutely. And will there be original content coming from Telltale not based on any other existing franchises? That’s still very much in our future, yes, but right now we’re really enjoying the amazing work that we’re able to continue on in the studio, innovating and focusing on our fans and carrying out format forward. 

“I think you’re going to start seeing our format design start to change and evolve over the next 18 months, just as well as you’re going to see maybe our episodic release structure change and evolve. Right now, you’re used to seeing five episodes come out per series, and even something as simple as that could change very soon. 

“So, as we move into 2018, players can expect an evolution of Telltale both in design and release structure happening incrementally and hopefully with the games you’ve been wanting to see from us the most.”

INSIDE THE BOX

The innovation in its episodic approach may primarily lend itself to digital distribution, but the studio has been canny with physical releases too. The studio’s season pass discs, which often arrive at retail around the launch of the second episode of any given series, have also proven to be a huge hit for the company.

“It’s been wildly successful,” Stauffer continued. “We pioneered the sort of digital-to-retail model early on with The Walking Dead in 2012, and now that every console’s connected online, the season pass disc structure means we’re able to premiere in stores the same day we premiere digitally.”

He was not worried about gamers potentially trading in those season pass discs, either: “The disc itself will access the content as it becomes available, which is a little different from buying a code or purchasing the rights digitally, as the discs are tradable, exchangeable and sellable. So it becomes this nice in-between where consumers are happy, we’re happy, retailers are super happy, and we’ve been finding a great amount of success with the model.”

Indeed, Stauffer said Telltale has “big expectations” for the season pass discs of Batman: The Enemy Within and Minecraft: Story Mode – Season Two, and that the company’s also looking into shipping more games on disc in full once they’re completed, such as the recent physical edition of Minecraft Story Mode: The Complete Adventure for the Nintendo Switch. 

“We’re really happy about [The Complete Adventure on Switch], and we expect to see more of our games heading to Switch very soon, too,” added Stauffer. 

“The next game you’ll see [on Switch] after Minecraft may very well be the first season of Batman, as it’s still fresh in the studio right now, and we expect to follow it up soon with other titles such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Minecraft: Story Mode – Season Two.”

Those might sound like rather ‘safe’ and family-friendly choices compared to the rest of Telltale’s slate, but Stauffer assured us that nothing is outside the realms of possibility for Switch.

“We’re looking backwards and forwards [in our portfolio] and we’re really excited about the Switch. To say we’re steering away from other content because the audience isn’t there isn’t true. Looking at The Walking Dead, for instance, I don’t think we’re in as much of a rush right now, because looking into earlier seasons might require some additional effort to bring our content up to speed and up to Nintendo’s standards.

“No series is out of the question for us to bring to Switch. We’ll be examining everything and hopefully making a lot of fans happy. Plain and simple, the Nintendo Switch is a perfect match for Telltale. [Development has been] seamless and perfectly suited to everything that we do.”

TO BE CONTINUED

The recent announcements at Telltale puts the company under far greater scrutiny, and while job cuts are never welcome, a promise to update the underlying technology behind its games and to focus on the biggest brands will please many of its partners. 

We wish those departing Telltale the best of luck with their future careers, and for those remaining we hope the company becomes stronger and more stable in the long term as a result of this move. That the cuts were carried out without any title cancellations looks to show an organised approach to the redundancies. With a continued focus on storytelling, episodic content and brand extension, Telltale really should be able to thrive in the current market, though only time will tell if that’s going to be the case.

What's the date, Mr Wolf?

Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us is finally getting a second season in the latter half of 2018, but according to ex-head of creative communications Job Stauffer, the title might have never seen the light of day had it not been for a last ditch attempt from the development team to save it from being canned.

“The truth is that in 2011 we announced we were working on The Walking Dead, and a game based on the Fables comics at the same time,” Stauffer told MCV. “It was before The Walking Dead show had really taken off, so while Walking Dead was enjoying its success in 2012, Fables was in development and it was never actually very good until almost a year and a half’s worth of revisions.

“At a certain point, it was almost a comedy, although frankly not very funny and almost un-shippable. We really weren’t sure how we were going to execute it, and when it feels like there’s nothing you can do to save it, it takes that for the team to really rally and find that last wrench to throw into the machine and make it work. They did and we really found our tone with it.”

Fortunately for Telltale, the game was a hit: “When we premiered in 2013 and finished at the end of 2014, never in our wildest dreams did we expect to be the success that it was, both critically and – I think – financially as well. It was very successful for us.”

However, once the studio had finished the title, it already had a number of other projects on the go, making a second season a tricky proposition at the time.

“By the time we were finishing, we were already committed to doing some new projects – such as Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones and Minecraft. So finding a time where we could follow up The Wolf Among Us and really do it justice was always in play – and for the last two years, every tweet we’ve sent out of our company has been, ‘That’s great but where’s Wolf Among Us S2?’ And you know, that passion and that energy from the fans I think really pushed it into the forefront for 2018 and we’re excited to get back to it.”

The Wolf Among Us Season Two is currently slated for PS4, XO, PC, Mac, iOS and Android-based devices. 

SuperData: Add-on content sales are taking over the traditional one-time purchase model

SuperData predicts that revenue derived from microtransactions in free-to-play PC titles is to reach $25bn (£18.7bn) by 2022.

Revenue from microtransactions in free-to-play PC titles is to reach $22bn (£16.4bn) in 2017 – a 15.7 per cent growth compared to last year, according to SuperData.

Meanwhile, revenue from additional content for PC and console games will be on a par with last year, reaching $5bn (£3.7bn), and full games (both PC and console) will generate $8bn (£5.9bn) in revenue in 2017 (like last year), the report adds. 

Compared to 2012, revenue derived from microtransactions in free-to-play PC titles has doubled (see graph below), as it reached $11bn that year, before plateauing at $17bn for a few years and is now going to reach $22bn. SuperData predicts that it’s going to reach $25bn (£18.7bn) by 2022.

In the meantime, revenue from PC and console additional content has increased 150 per cent compared to 2012 figures, and revenue for full PC and console games has grown 60 per cent during the same period.

“Although gamers are quick to complain that publishers are excessively monetising additional content for games, players continue to support service-based monetisation with their wallets,” the report read. “Add-on content sales are increasingly out-earning the traditional one-time purchase model, and the trend shows no signs of slowing. PC and console game publishers, who are aware that each segment has a finite audience, are looking for ways to further monetise both the existing audience and find new ways to attract new consumers by lowering the entry barriers. For many platforms and games, this has been wildly successful.”

Looking at FIFA 17’s model, SuperData’s report also showed how revenue from additional content has slowly been taking over revenue from the full game (see graph below). It added that “[FIFA’s] strategy mirrors Battlefront II, but with some key exceptions. And it’s those exceptions that can make or break the game’s success.”

Still discussing EA’s strategy, SuperData added: “EA has a ways to go in fully understanding gamers’ appetites for microtransactions in different games. Activision’s Call of Duty franchise has consistently over-performed EA’s Battlefield in microtransactions by relying on character customisation and weapons. However, EA have by no means been the first to get burned by what appears to consumers as money-grubbing techniques. Players of Assassin’s Creed Unity pushed back against what they saw as Ubisoft’s high-priced microtransaction shortcuts: they ultimately earned only 7% of the game’s additional content revenue.”

Waffle Box: Belgian legislators can’t fight loot boxes, only consumers can do that

It’s the very first, and possibly last, time PC Gamer and Polygon will rank so highly for the word ‘Belgium'

Typing ‘Belgium’ into an incognito Google search box today brings up three key news stories about the central European country. And they’re all about loot boxes.

This is a country of 11,303,528 people, who have a world-renowned ability to brew brilliant beer, concoct chocolate delights, make some mean waffles, fry arguably the best chips around (I may be hungry as I write this), plus boast a football team that punch well above their weight and are headed for the World Cup next year.

And yet despite all that, the most interesting thing that’s happening in Belgium today, according to Google, is that its Minister of Justice wants to ban loot boxes. 

I’m not sure if that says something about the rarity of interesting events in Belgium, Google’s tendency to go all in on a single story, or maybe the sheer tenacity of the press when a big story just keeps on giving – and by god this one really has delivered.

PC Gamer and Polygon led the gaming news pack on that particular search term, and I imagine it’s the very first, and possibly last, time that the latter two will rank so highly for the word ‘Belgium’. But pretty much every outlet was queuing up behind them, even newspapers covered it.

Now The Telegraph doesn’t usually get behind the utterances of European legislators, rather the opposite, though as it notes none “of these authorities have direct control on laws in the United Kingdom.”

And I very much doubt that Belgian legislators stand a chance in hell at trying to get the law changed across Europe. The limited statements we have are full of the usual misunderstandings of the games industry, very much in the ‘won’t anyone think of the children’ line of thought, and when Battlefront II has a 16 PEGI rating that’s a bit rich.

Belgian legislators don’t hold the power here – consumers do. If they don’t want randomised loot boxes then they’ll vote with their feet and pressure the publishers and license holders. Disney has reportedly already reined in EA on this one, though I reckon there’s more chance of Belgium winning the World Cup (14/1 at present) than Ultimate Team suffering a similar fate... over to you FIFA. 

Gambling Commission ‘our legal powers would not allow us to step in’ on loot boxes

Loot boxes are not under government's body legal remit, but it offers to assist publishers in making sure that children are protected

The UK's gambling commission will not be stepping into the loot box furore, said a statement today from Tim Miller its executive director. As has been repeated ad nauseam in recent debates, Miller makes the argument that if the items cannot be cashed out then its legal powers would not let it intervene.

"In practical terms this means that where in-game items obtained via loot boxes are confined for use within the game and cannot be cashed out it is unlikely to be caught as a licensable gambling activity."

No great surprises there - unless the Commission was going to suddenly decide that digital items, which are largely locked to a specific user account, were more easily sold on for profit, than say Panini football stickers or random Minifigs from Lego. Such a decision would have looked distinctly like the games industry was being singled out. Especially given that titles such as BF2 have a PEGI 16 rating, which you can't say about minifigs.

The statement goes on to talk entirely about protecting children, which is a valid concern.

"Many parents are not interested in whether an activity meets a legal definition of ‘gambling’. Their main concern is whether there is a product out there that could present a risk to their children."

That puts FIFA Ultimate Team, surely the most successful microtransaction model in the UK outside of mobile games, and one that's very popular with younger players, in the spotlight. Miller goes onto say that the Commission is "concerned with the growth in examples where the line between video gaming and gambling is becoming increasingly blurred."

However, where the activity is not classed as gambling, the Commission's action on this wlll be limited to providing advice. "We have a long track record in keeping children safe and we are keen to share our experiences and expertise with others that have a similar responsibility. Whether gambling or not, we all have a responsibility to keep children and young people safe."

The next question is whether any major publisher using loot boxes is keen to listen to that advice. With highly-differing legal opinions coming from varying parts of Europe, with Belgium being the front-runner in terms of opprobrium, and such titles having European-wide business models and server setups, it's hard to see the publisher's being able to easily adapt to different views in different regions - if it's ever pressured of course.

There are parts of the games industry that do need to be carefully watched and regulated, skins gambling for instance, but we need to be clear about the differences between that and typical loot boxes.

The latter are still a serious potential issue for game design and game balance, and publishers should be cautious about how they proceed with such monetisation strategies.

Black Friday creates biggest software week of 2017 thanks to bundles

Call of Duty: WWII remained at No.1 in the UK weekly charts, while Black Friday bundles boosted hardware sales to a new high

Black Friday week was the biggest week of the year so far at retail. 

Software sales were up 89 per cent in units and 53 per cent in revenue week-on-week, driven by the wealth of PS4 and Xbox One bundles on offer last week. GfK noted in its report that, looking specifically at combined sales units of PS4 and Xbox One hardware, Black Friday sales were up three per cent compared to last year. Official bundles accounted for 83 per cent of all PS4 and Xbox One units sold.

There’s no surprise in the Top Ten, with Call of Duty: WWII keeping its top spot for the fourth consecutive week, with sales up 84 per cent. FIFA 18 gained one place to No.2 following a 237 per cent growth in sales, while Gran Turismo: Sport climbed from No.12 to No.3. Sales for Sony’s racing exclusive increased by an whopping 867 per cent, as it was on offer with most PS4 bundles last week.

Despite Black Friday, Star Wars Battlefront II dropped to No.4 for its second week on shelves, with sales only decreasing 43 per cent. It’s the only title in the Top Ten that saw its sales decrease.

Forza Motorsport 7, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Fallout 4 did particularly well during Black Friday. At No.6, Forza saw its sales increase 332 per cent, while Wolfenstein II landed at No.7 with sales up 332 per cent. Fallout 4 climbed 14 spots to No.9 thanks to a 324 per cent growth. 

Meanwhile, Sony PlayLink titles Knowledge is Power and Hidden Agenda debuted respectively at No.14 and No.15. They were both bundled as part of the Black Friday deals, hence the good Week One sales. Sony also did pretty well with PlayStation VR Worlds, which was bundled with the PS VR Starter Pack. Sales for the title were up 226 per cent week-on-week as it charted No.11. Hardware sales for PS VR were also massively boosted by Black Friday and were on a part with launch week.

Here’s the UK Top Ten for the week ending November 25th (data courtesy of Gfk/Ukie):

  1. Call of Duty: WWII (Activision)
  2. FIFA 18 (EA Sports)
  3. Gran Turismo Sport (Sony)
  4. Star Wars Battlefront II (EA)
  5. Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft)
  6. Forza Motorsport 7 (Microsoft)
  7. Wolfenstein II: The New Collossus (Bethesda)
  8. Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo)
  9. Fallout 4 (Bethesda)
  10. Need for Speed Payback (EA)

A Modern Industrial Strategy: TIGA’s Richard Wilson ahead of Monday’s white paper

Head of UK trade body talks about the three key areas the strategy must address

Dr Richard Wilson is CEO of TIGA, the award-winning trade association representing the UK video games industry. At TIGA, Richard has successfully campaigned for the introduction of Video Games Tax Relief and introduced an accreditation system for university games courses.


Now that the Government has triggered Article 50 and the UK is set to leave the EU, companies, consumers and the country need a sense of direction; as does Government. Without a clear lodestar, Government policy will drift, Ministers will be sidetracked by day to day firefighting and departmental policies risk inconsistency. By leaving the EU we are embarking on a dramatic change in our constitutional, economic and political framework. We need a strategy to steady consumers, stiffen business confidence and strengthen investment.

The Government provided a partial answer earlier this year when it published an Industrial Strategy Green Paper; the second instalment of which will be published on November 27th in the form of a White paper. The decision to launch an industrial strategy is a conscious break with the past. But how do we avoid going back to the future?  The last thing anyone wants is a return to the 1970s, picking losers and subsidising failing industries.

A modern industrial strategy for the UK should be animated by three principles.  It should generally favour competitive markets over detailed central planning as the former typically produces more efficient and effective outcomes. It should involve removing obstructions to business growth, addressing market failures (for instance, in respect of business access to finance) and providing public goods (for example, investment in blue sky research). It should involve both generic and sectoral approaches to the economy. This means that while the Government should aim to create a general framework for business success characterised by comparatively low tax rates, relatively low business costs and an effective regulatory environment, it should also seek to ameliorate restrictions to business success, market failures and distortions in different sectors.

The UK economy has many different economic sectors, with 5.4 million firms, employing over 31 million people. A uniform approach to economic and industrial policy which ignores the differences of distinct sectors could be ineffective or even harmful. An industrial strategy with generic and sectoral components may not appear tidy, simple, or ‘rational’. Nevertheless, such an approach is realistic, deals with the world as it is in practice and is likely to result in better policy outcomes than a rationalist, ‘sector blind, one-size fits all’ approach.  

Like Churchill’s pudding, these principles and the industrial strategy should be linked by an overarching theme: eliminating the productivity gap that exists between the UK and other G7 countries.

Productivity is critical to business competitiveness and to improving living standards. Increases in output per hour enable firms to increase pay without having to raise prices and to stay competitive against other firms. Higher pay results in higher tax receipts. Improving productivity will attract overseas investment. Enhancements in productivity will strengthen the economy.

"A uniform approach to economic and industrial policy which ignores the differences of distinct sectors could be ineffective or even harmful."

Currently, UK workers are less productive than their counterparts in every G7 country apart from Japan and on average, the productivity gap between the UK and the rest of the G7 is approximately 20 per cent. Indeed, according to research by the Conference Board, the only EU countries to have lower output per hour than the UK are Greece, Italy and Portugal. Not only is the UK economy in general relatively less productive than some of our key competitors, but productivity is particularly weak in specific sectors, including banking, telecoms and energy.

Improving productivity is ultimately in the hands of managers, owners and workers. Yet Government also has a part to play because productivity growth is driven by investment, education and innovation and public policy affects these variables.

We invest less than many of our competitors. UK gross investment as a percentage of GDP was just over 14 per cent in 2012 compared to a global average of almost 24 per cent. The Government can encourage greater investment by investing directly in the UK’s infrastructure and it can promote greater private sector investment via measures such as investment allowances, investment incentives like the SEIS, R&D Tax Credits and tax relief in the creative industries.

UK workers are relatively less educated than their compatriots in competitor countries. In 2011-12, the UK’s 16-18 year olds were the worst performing on literacy and second worst for numeracy out of 18 OECD countries. It should be a priority to improve the provision of basic skills, particularly English and mathematics; ensure that the new T-Levels provide high quality vocational qualifications and training; and enable our world class universities to compete effectively in the global market for students. A better educated and skilled workforce will be more productive and have a wider range of life chances.

"A better educated and skilled workforce will be more productive and have a wider range of life chances."

A strong science and engineering base can be a source of new ideas for business and can serve as a magnet for inward investment. Government can encourage innovation by investing in the country’s science and engineering infrastructure and by encouraging knowledge transfer from the science and engineering base to the private sector to help enterprises make use of new discoveries. The UK invests just 1.7 per cent of GDP in private and public R&D funding, compared to an OECD average of 2.4 per cent.  The Government is increasing expenditure on science and research, but we need to do more and match the OECD average. Government investment and support for R&D encourages business investment in the same. The Conservative Party Manifesto makes a commitment to match the OECD average spend on R&D of 2.4 per cent – but only within ten years – with a longer term investment ambition of 3 per cent. If we are serious about making the UK the most innovative country in the world then we need to be more ambitious and act more rapidly. Our competitors are not standing still.

The Government can also work to promote productivity in the public sector, which represents a significant proportion of the economy and which employed 5.4 million workers in 2014. The Government can do this through investment, training, innovation and adopting best business practices and techniques.

Our capacity for advancements in productivity will be accentuated by ensuring that a ‘global UK’ is a reality. We must be open to new ideas, new businesses and new highly skilled migrants. We must ensure that the UK is open to competitive pressures: global competition keeps individuals and businesses ship shape. The UK Government should therefore aim to negotiate a trade deal with the EU that avoids tariffs and other non-tariff barriers to trade to the greatest possible extent. After leaving the EU, the UK Government must negotiate trade deals with growing economies, including the USA, China and
India.

A modern industrial strategy with a clear objective - eliminating the productivity gap that exists between the UK and other G7 countries – has three key advantages. It addresses our principal economic weakness. It prepares the UK for the challenges of global competition as we leave the EU.  It gives businesses, government and the country a sense of purpose.

It is a modern industrial strategy for the UK.

EA on the EU: UK boss Shaun Campbell talks Europe

MCV catches up with EA’s Shaun Campbell at the Houses of Parliament to talk about the wider issues challenging the UK games industry

Ukie’s biennial Westminster Games Day is a great opportunity for the industry to join forces and make sure our parliamentarians are aware of the importance of the industry and the issues it’s facing. While there, we took the opportunity to have a quick chat with Shaun Campbell, EA’s country manager for UK and Ireland, about the issues of the day: Brexit and Bazalgette.

Have you started planning for the most likely Brexit outcomes?

We started working on and thinking about Brexit before the vote. Similar to a lot of publishers, our physical goods are manufactured in Europe – Sony, Technicolour, pretty much all the big manufacturers are Europe-based. So you have to start getting your head around what the worst case scenario looks like if we end up with customs barriers back in place. We keep on reminding ourselves that it’s not new to us, we [already] export into the Middle East and Turkey and even into Russia, we have the mechanisms in place. All of those are distributed out of Europe. You have to start thinking of the impact in terms of shipping physical goods, but it’s obviously much bigger than that.

You’ll just be able to drive them over the Irish border from what I hear?

We’ll see where that ends up! But it is much bigger than that, there’s work happening on the data protection side and that comes into play next year in May.

But then what happens when the UK leaves?

Then we’ll have data we have to think about both from a UK and from a European perspective. Then we have a number of people working out of our Guildford office who are EU nationals, so what does that mean for them? We’re continuing to try and attract talent, and Criterion Studios are a good case in point, they have a number of people who are EU nationals and for them to continue to try and attract talent, what does that look like?

For the bigger companies, with bigger resources, we certainly have the ability to do some of that work ourselves, while Ukie is really important in representing the voice of the industry. We’ve all very much aligned behind the position that Ukie is talking about: how we make sure we have access to the best possible people, what does it mean from a data perspective, what does the customs thing look like?

They’re certainly all the things we need to work through, but from our perspective it hasn’t been a case
of sitting on our hands and waiting until 2019. You have to be proactive.

How are EA’s operations structured across Europe at present?

Our two main operations offices for the whole of Europe are Geneva and Guildford. In Guildford, beyond the UK publishing business that I run, and Criterion and Ghost Studios, we have a number of people who work across operations, IT, HR, business affairs, legal and all those areas service not just our European business but our international business. The rest of that, call it the ‘international base’, are in Geneva. So it’s across those two businesses that we manage it. Particularly on the operations side, there’s a big group of people based in the UK office that manage operations for the whole of Europe.

"I think there’s a huge opportunity to develop the games industry, but this is not about saying ‘stop funding them and start funding us’. I think we’ve shown that investing in technology is a good idea"

Where does the revenue go when European consumers buy digital product?

We work closely, and are in regular discussions with HMRC, with tax authorities here, in Switzerland and in all the countries to ensure that we’re compliant with the tax provisions. We’re managing it in a way that we believe is fair and compliant.

But leaving the EU would then require some changes?

Yes. I think there are those challenges, in how we manage the business and structure the business. As with every company that is international, we’re going to have to come up with solutions, depending on what [Brexit] looks like.

Coming back to the UK, we recently received the Bazalgette Report, are you happy with what this government is doing for the industry?

I think the recommendations in the Bazalgette report were really positive, and the recommendation is for more investment in this industry, and you can see, from a relatively small cross-section at today’s event, the creative and commercial power of the industry.

Commensurate to other industries I think there’s a huge opportunity to develop the games industry, but this is not about saying ‘stop funding them and start funding us’. It’s tough for government to make the right decisions, but I think we’ve shown that investing in technology is a good idea, in terms of what it can deliver. And that’s not just within this industry but also the flow-on effect from here into a whole bunch of other sectors, such as VR, which have huge applications more broadly.

Have the moral crusades from parliament against games finally come to an end?

I understand the concerns that people have when you look within video games. There are ratings in place and it’s important that they are followed, and that everyone is compliant with them to ensure the right age groups are playing the right games. I understand that people have concerns, and we must be responsible in terms of how we approach these things.

But it’s not just about that, it’s a question of balance. Again, our position is that playing games should just be one part of what kids do when they are growing up. We love that we have lots of people playing FIFA, but we also want them to be playing football out in the park. We also know there are lots of studies that talk about how playing video games can actually help, in terms of developing reasoning, decision making skills, motor skills.

I think that while we haven’t seen any for a couple of years, we can’t be complacent, we need to make sure that we continue to do the right thing in terms of how we think about games, how we make sure the ratings are followed, pushing the message about balance, and all the great things about the industry, helping people develop skills and get jobs.

Marketing indie games: Putting the fun in funnel

Failbetter Games’ marketing manager Haley Uyrus on how to make the most of your sales funnel

Haley Uyrus is the in-house marketing manager at Failbetter Games. With degrees in Creative Industries Management and Game Design & Theory, she enjoys bringing the two disciplines together to help indies better understand how marketing can work for their game. She also made it to MCV's 30 Under 30 this year.


As an indie dev, marketing can feel like a mysterious and insurmountable task. There are so many different facets to focus on: social media, advertising, PR, community management, events – the list goes on. If you don’t have a marketer on staff, it’s easy to miss some important areas in your marketing plan. Considering your sales funnel can help you to easily identify some of these gaps.

So what is a sales funnel? It’s basically the path potential customers take to buy your game (see picture below). There are four stages or sections: Awareness (trailers, news, SEO, advertising), Interest (reviews, streams, blogs, Let’s Plays), Decision (free trial, wishlists, play at event) and then finally Action (which is buying the game in this case). If you have an online or live game, you may also have a final piece at the bottom: Retention (community management, customer support).

Looking at your sales funnel is a great way to make sure you’re covering all your marketing bases. It helps you find bottlenecks where players may be getting stuck before buying your game. When premium mobile games were still a new market, players would see a game on the front page of the App Store, but weren’t sure what they’d get for their money and were hesitant to buy. To remedy this, many premium games offered a few levels for free, allowing players to test it out and get stuck in.

One of the easiest and most prevalent mistakes I’ve seen when working with indies is to focus all their energy (and money) on either the top or bottom of the funnel. If you focus too much on the top, many may have heard of your game, but aren’t yet convinced to buy it. If you focus too much on the bottom, a small amount of players may buy your game while the majority of your audience will be unaware it exists at all.

The sales funnel should not be generic, but instead specific to the genre, features and platform of the game. Each of the different audiences of your game should be plotted out separately. For example, with Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies here at Failbetter, we’ve dubbed our two biggest audiences as Narrative Explorers and Stats Aficionados. When we plan our marketing strategy, we know those two groups will be attracted to different game features, and so make sure there’s something specifically enticing to them at each level of the funnel.

With 100 to 200 games coming out each week on Steam alone, let alone the mobile space, the indie marketplace is only going to become more crowded. Understanding the journey a player takes from first hearing about your game to actually buying is vital and will allow your team to plan something at each stage that will capture the player’s interest. Continuously check and address your sales funnel will allow you to make sure your marketing is working efficiently toward gaining sales.

Fuelling education: why gaming should have a place in the classroom

Escape Studios’ head of games Simon Fenton discusses how to get children into the games industry, how to bring gaming into schools and how to ensure more children are inspired to consider a creative career path

Simon Fenton has 23 years of industry experience. including ten years at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. Escape Studios, part of Pearson College London, teaches students Game Art, VFX and Animation. Escape Studios, part of Pearson College London, teaches students Game Art, VFX and Animation. You can visit their website for further information. 


There is currently a wealth of discussion around the creative industries, from debate on the lack of arts-focused subjects at school, to fewer people taking creative subjects at A-Level. All of which is at odds with research based on the UK economy. The BFI’s UK Film Economy Report estimates the UK film industry is worth a huge £4.3bn to the economy based on figures from 2013-2016, with a further 30,000 job opportunities opening over the next five years. 

So, how do we get children into the industry, bring gaming into schools and ensure more children are inspired to consider a creative career path? Part of the debate is that gaming doesn’t have a place in the classroom, but at Escape – as many in the industry – we believe it’s quite the opposite.

There are principles that are inherent in both playing a game and teaching. At our recent Escape Studios XV panel discussion, industry leader Ian Livingstone CBE commented on learning through gameplay stating that “human beings are playful by nature and learn through play... Games resonate with children and are a contextual hub for learning. Playing a game requires problem-solving, decision making, intuitive learning, trial and error, logic, analysis, management, communication, risk-taking, planning, resource management and computational thinking.” 

"To produce future talent with creative flare, it’s important that we revisit our approach to learning and use the tools readily available to us to fuel education."

Simon Fenton, Escape Studios

For example, Valiant Hearts, Kerbal Space Programme and even Minecraft and The Sims are all great tools for teaching history, physics and encourage decision making. 

A report by Newzoo in April 2017 stated that approximately 2.2bn people play games worldwide. With this enormous number of people playing games in their spare time, it’s astounding that there isn’t a bigger focus on using this platform within our education system. 

Games can pull us into a learning environment, offering the user interactive experiences that are needed to solve problems. They engage the user in the process, an aspect which couldn’t be more vital in the classroom. With a game you have to make choices, and these choices have consequences. This is a key skill to learn early on in life. These mistakes provide a platform for learning, as each mistake is made, you adapt, change and get a different result... Traditional classroom learning is very passive, you cannot reset and re-try what is learnt, most of what is taught is meant to be committed to memory, and tested in an exam-based environment.  

At Escape Studios, we believe that bringing the creative industries into the classroom at a much earlier age is key. It’s not just gaming that’s important, it’s also wider subjects such as art, which fosters the creativity that’s vital for a career in the world of games. Within my own career, I specialised in fine art and these skills, combined with my passion for gaming, has fuelled my success. To produce future talent with creative flare, it’s important that we revisit our approach to learning and use the tools readily available to us to fuel education.

Is it evil to make your players happy?

If a developer creates a new card set, weapon, or cosmetic skin that they think players will really love – is it evil to use every tool possible to make sure they see it? Exient's product lead Dan Bergin-Holly has the answer

Dan Bergin-Holly is a mobile games producer and product manager with a passion for helping teams excel in making great games. He is currently a product lead in mobile games company Exient, working primarily on Angry Birds Transformers in conjunction with Rovio.


A couple of weeks back consumer games media broke news about a patent recently awarded to Activision. The patent – hotly titled “System and method for driving microtransactions in multiplayer video games” – created a predictable furore among gaming fans and journalists. Amidst the great wailing and gnashing of teeth the patent was described as ‘dastardly’, ‘manipulative’, and even ‘evil’. But is it evil to make your players happy?

To recap the system as described by the patent – the basic idea is that a series of analytics measures would identify a player as having a ‘potential interest’ in a given in-game item. The system would then adjust the matchmaking settings of the game to ensure this player was exposed to that in-game item. If the player does make the purchase, the system would then adjust the matchmaking settings again to ensure the next match the player enters would maximise the use value of the purchase, making them feel a strong value return from their actions.

While many players focused upon the inherent unfairness of manipulating matchmaking processes to alter player behaviour – such practices are already commonplace. For example, consider a player currently on a hard losing streak – that player is at risk of churning out of the game in a rage quit, it would not be unheard of for a developer to temporarily manipulate the skill matching system so that the player is more likely to get a win in their next round. The player is given a potentially unfair advantage over other players for the sake of keeping them in the game and playing. Similarly with familiar design tools such as rubber-banding. If we accept game balance manipulation as ‘fair’ for these cases, why not for others?

"If a developer creates a new card set, weapon, or cosmetic skin that they think players will really love – is it evil to use every tool possible to make sure they see it?"

Dan Bergin-Holly, Exient

Developers spend countless hours trying to work out how best to introduce players to new content. Producers and game leads spend days trying to justify prioritisation of content and features – often asking the question “How many players will see this, and will they care?” So if a developer creates a new card set, weapon, or cosmetic skin that they think players will really love – is it evil to use every tool possible to make sure they see it? This system gives developers a way to ensure players see relevant content in the game.  

The follow-on to this is that a player who has made a purchase is then matched into a game which affords opportunity for this purchase to be actually useful or satisfying, in theory encouraging future purchases. The nature of this opportunity may require careful design choices but, to my mind, this is no more unfair than breaking a losing streak for a player. What’s worse than picking up an ace weapon only to never get a chance to actually use it? Ultimately the tool comes from the same place, a drive to make sure the player has fun and stays in the game. You’ve shown me something cool, I’ve invested in acquiring it, and now you’ll give me a chance to have some fun with it.

I’m happy, and you’re happy – is that so evil? 

A Call of Duty Movie, the Overwatch League, Candy Crush ice cream - Tim Kilpin is extending the brand

The ex-Disney executive talks about the huge untapped potential of Activision Blizzard's biggest brands

Activision Blizzard just had its biggest week of the year. Its annual Call of Duty behemoth was launched at retail to strong sales figures, while BlizzCon gathered tens of thousands of the company’s most faithful fans together. 

One big announcement was for a Disneyland-esque Overwatch map, celebrating the company’s biggest titles in a virtual themepark: BlizzardWorld. It may be little more than a coincidence, but only a few weeks beforehand we sat down with Tim Kilpin, an ex-Disney executive, who is now president and CEO of Activision Blizzard’s new consumer products group.

We discussed the unique strengths that gaming franchises have over their non-gaming competition and the new division’s ambitious plans for some of the most revered names in gaming today, including the Call of Duty movie and Overwatch’s esports expansion.

FRANCHISES ASSEMBLE!

Of course, Activision and Blizzard have long extended their brands beyond the games themselves, into merchandise for instance, but the companies felt a more integrated approach was needed to get the best from these IPs.

“What we’re building now is not game title, game title, game title,” explains Kilpin, gesticulating a series of boxes. “We’re truly starting to think about these as franchises and recognise that [they] have the potential to reach across a multiplicity of platforms.

“It’s working in gaming, of course, but it can also work in linear content, so we set up a studio to do that,” Kilpin says, referring to Activision Blizzard Studios, which is producing Skylanders Academy and the upcoming Call of Duty movies.

“It can also work more strongly than it’s worked in consumer products,” Kilpin continues. “Our challenge to some degree has been a disjointed approach across the divisions, it was buried in each of the divisions up to that point, it was a little bit ancillary.”

The new division will function across Activision, Blizzard and King as well. “We wanted to level it up, pull it up into a division of its own, which gave it visibility internally, gave it visibility with our licensing partners and also with retailers.”

THE GAMING EDGE

That visibility allows the division to better explain the potential strength of its franchises. Kilpin has been talking to partners at BLE, telling them “we’re a platform and a portfolio, these franchises exist across multiple platforms. So it’s not just the game as a driver, but it’s linear content as a way to expand the audience and expand the opportunity. And then esports [too], because pull all that together and you’re talking about franchises that are frankly like no other.”

Activision’s ambition then is nothing less than a big console game, attached to a Marvel-style cinematic universe, which also doubles up as the NBA: “We call it ‘the franchises of the future’ because we actually believe that’s a fair way to describe it,” Kilpin says.

“Because of the way our audience has evolved digitally, and the level of engagement with these franchises, now they’ll play the game for hours upon hours upon hours and go back into it for the seasonal content, downloadable content, microtransactions. They are living inside that ecosystem for years, and just today Overwatch players are playing an average of two hours a day.”

That’s the equivalent of watching a franchise movie everyday, and even with 17 movies in the ‘Marvel cinematic universe’ that would still get tired pretty quickly. 

LESS IS MORE

This big brand, franchise approach, looks to be a great fit with Activision’s shift to a smaller number of tentpole titles, rather than targeting numerous genre staples. 

“We’re prioritising strategically, stepping back and saying Call of Duty has a specific kind of player, and so we want to maximise the opportunity with that audience, through the game, through linear media, through esports,” Kilpin says agreeably.

“Same thing with Overwatch. It has a different set of characteristics, the affinity for the characters themselves in that game is very strong, it’s to some degree a different audience, so we bring that in, and then we bring the opportunity for new content, for new storytelling. We’ve had over a quarter of a billion views of our short-form story-telling on Overwatch, so people are engaging with the world.

“The other thing I’m excited about is that there’s more planning going into that process, so there’s more thought about how these characters enter the universe. They can enter through gameplay, they can enter through storytelling, they can enter through merchandising. When we bring in the new [Overwatch] Junkertown Map, for example, there’s a level of coordination across all these elements that adds up cumulatively to a richer engagement. And that to us is new territory, and that’s where we think we can play and compete very effectively with the more traditional types of franchises.”

Pictured above: Candy Crush ice cream from UK brand Rossi was available to try at Activision’s BLE stand and MCV can report that all three flavours are delicious

POPCORN TIME

One of the most traditional starts for a big franchise is the blockbuster movie. But now it’s Activision that’s making the movie too. Films based on games don’t have the best reputation, so does the movie risk damaging Call of Duty’s wider reputation?

“Anytime you take a franchise as storied as this, with this kind of legacy, and expand it into a new form factor you have to be really careful, you’re absolutely right,” agrees Kilpin. “So frankly, if the script and the story isn’t right we won’t do it, it’s not one of those situations where someone is saying ‘I don’t care, just get it made’. That’s not what’s happening. We do think that if it’s done well it has the opportunity to expand the base audience beyond the traditional foundation that the game appeals to.”

Of course, expanding the audience of arguably the biggest gaming franchise on the planet is no small task: “As an M-rated game it’s a core audience and we do think there’s an opportunity to reach a little more broadly than that, if the storytelling is done well. That’s the key.”

Looking to this year’s highly-successful outing, we wonder if the historical setting means that commercial activity around the game, such as merchandise, has be dealt with more sensitively.

“We ended up putting together a programme around Call of Duty that is more thoughtful, more curated, to celebrate what the title is about, and there is some apparel that goes along with that, and we’ll do some accessories but it’s relatively limited,” Kilpin says. “We’re doing a really nice strategy guide with Prima that’s not just a guide itself, it’s a footlocker that has some other collectibles with it. It honours what we’re trying to do with WWII without being overly crass about it.”

So while this year is somewhat limited by its subject matter, Kilpin feels there’s plenty of space to grow over the next couple of years. 

“There’s a lot on the horizon that we’re excited about in terms of the new storytelling, the new titles, and the live action feature film in 2019. We think there’s a lot more opportunity to expand what we’re doing. This
year, we’re being thoughtful and curative. The next couple of years beyond this will really be opportunities for us to expand.”

Coming back to films, we wonder if an Overwatch movie is a possibility. The franchise is still growing obviously, but the strength of the game’s characters and style makes it a mouth-watering possibility. Kilpin smiles and only says: “We would like that very much.”

OVERPOWERED

But Overwatch has other ambitions for now. Barely a day goes by recently without a new announcement concerning the upcoming Overwatch World League. The league is Blizzard’s brave top-down attempt to create a highly organised, franchised esport in the mould of today’s NBA or NFL. A far cry from the more typical organic, grassroots model that most take. 

That level of organisation gives the publisher many advantages, compared to most esports outfits. 

“It’s an ecosystem,” Kilpin says. “We’re creating the events, obviously we created the game, we’re creating the sponsorship opportunities, creating the media opportunities, streaming the games, telling stories about the characters and then we’re merchandising around it. So when you connect all those dots, you can keep someone who’s a fan in that ecosystem all the way through the process, and that’s exciting.”

That effectively means that Activision is acting as apparel-provider, Nike or Puma for example, to all twelve teams in the fledgling league.

“We’re creating all the products that will support this, particularly at launch, which as you might expect are the traditional kinds of things. We’re going to outfit the players, then we’re going to outfit the fans with some similar things, hats, tees, jerseys, etc. At the outset, we’ll make that stuff available ourselves and sell it through our online store, make it available in the arena. We believe over time that we’ll start to bring more licensees into that.

Activision isn’t just in control of the team’s real-world apparel though, it’s also outfitting the teams in the game, to tie in with their franchise colours.

“When the Shanghai Dragons and the Dallas Fuel face off, not only will the teams be in their home and away looks, but the characters in the game will reflect that. It opens up this whole new opportunity, particularly as people build affinity with those teams.”

ACTIVISION ACTIVATION

Browsing to the Overwatch YouTube channel while writing this article, the video pinned to autoplay at the top of the page isn’t about a new game feature, an update or even the near-endless announcements for Overwatch’s World League, instead it’s an advert for a new 12in statuette of the popular Genji character, which costs $150 dollars direct from Blizzard. The video has 185,000 views to date. It’s the kind of joined-up thinking that Activision Blizzard, and many other companies, need to show if they’re to make the most of their franchises, and Kilpin agrees.

“We have a gear store that’s active today and we’re about to launch a version of that in Europe. There is a link to move from Battle.net today to that, though I’d say it’s not yet optimised, there’s a recognition on all our parts that it’s good to keep those consumers in the ecosystem if you can. So what you’ll see is us getting more direct about that, so you’re not just shopping for digital merchandise, you’re shopping for physical merchandise as well.”

The possibilities are pretty clear. For example Blizzard knows which character a given player is keen on at any given time, and it should be able to target them with appropriate products to match.

“Yes, we’re not there yet, but strategically that’s part of the plan.The consumer is very comfortable living in that digital ecosystem and staying in that ecosystem, so we want to serve up the opportunity to that consumer. We have some work to do, but we’re on our way.”

However, Activision is drawing the line at making players earn the right to buy certain items in-game before offering them in the store, as mobile titles have experimented with.

“We’ve talked about that, but our point of view is that the people creating the game want to create the best possible game experience, they are wary, and so are we frankly, of creating that barrier. If someone wants to go and get the T-shirt, mug or figurine, you don’t really want to put a hurdle in the way. We haven’t found a solution to that which is elegant and fan friendly.”

No sign yet of a Blizzard theme park then, but the ex-Disney man certainly isn’t excluding anything in his efforts to build the company’s games into world-beating franchises and with an enviable mix of engagement, characters, storytelling and esports, it looks like he’s got something potentially very special.

MCV’s 30 Under 30 unveiled in this week’s issue

Also featuring interviews with Unity, Telltale, GAME, Badland, AESVI and more

It’s time for us to reveal our definitive list of the industry’s brightest young minds. For this year’s 30 Under 30 (sponsored by OPM Jobs), we were inundated with entries, which made choosing the final list of 30 very tough – so this really is the cream of the crop. We’re really pleased with the diverse nature of the list this year, encompassing every aspect of our industry from retail strategy and marketing to journalism and business development. Check out the list here or in the digital edition and congratulations to you all!

In this week’s issue, we also talk to Unity‘s CMO Clive Downie on how its community of creators is its most valuable asset.

Meanwhile, Telltale is entering a TV-like production model. We spoke to the company about its new strategy just before announcements were made to radically downsize its workforce.

We also talk to Spanish publisher and distributor Badland Games as it prepares to consolidate its position with development and shakes up retail with its physical collector’s editions of indie titles.

Elsewhere, general secretary of the Italian games industry association AESVI Thalita Malago talks about the trade body’s plan for Italy to become the “next rising star in the video games industry” and GAME’s CEO Martyn Gibbs discusses the retailer’s latest figures and more recent developments.

The latest digital edition can be read here for free

The full contents of this week's issue are below:

  • OPINION: Why develop a VR game now? Make Real’s director of immersive technologies Sam Watts has the answer
  • OPINION: Failbetter Games’ marketing manager Haley Uyrus on how to make the most of your sales funnel
  • OPINION: Gfinity’s David Yarnton on dinosaurs in the rapidly evolving digital world
  • 30 UNDER 30: MCV’s ultimate list of the 30 most brilliant young people working in the UK games industry right now
  • UNITY: The most important part of any game is its players. And Unity is using that exact philosophy when it comes to creators on its platform
  • TELLTALE: We talked to Telltale about its strategy just before it announced a 25 per cent cut of its workforce
  • BADLAND: Badland Games’ business development manager Felipe Rojo on the firm’s evolution to development and its collector’s editions business
  • AESVI: We catch up with the Italian games industry association to discuss its plan to grow its home market
  • GAME: The High Street retailer’s full year financial results are in and its momentum looks promising
  • PLUS! Star Wars merchandise range, Call of Duty: WWII tops the weekly charts, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 headline the big game releases of the week, and more

MCV's 30 Under 30 is sponsored by OPM Jobs

MCV’s 30 Under 30 2017

MCV’s ultimate list of the 30 most brilliant young people working in the UK games industry right now

For this year's 30 Under 30 (sponsored by OPM Jobs) we were inundated with entries. It's fantastic that there are so many brilliant young people working in the UK games industry, though that did make choosing the final list of 30 very tough, and so this really is the cream of the crop. Thanks for all your entries and, for those who aren't turning 30 soon, there's always next year's list to contest.

We're really pleased with the diverse nature of the list this year. It encompasses business development, community management, creative services, esports, event planning, journalism, marketing, streamer partnerships, publishing, PR, retail strategy, and many more aspects of our increasingly diverse industry. Congratulations to you all and if you're not currently receiving MCV in print, then let us know.


Colm Ahern (29) - Deputy editor, VideoGamer

Colm Ahern has been described to us as “one of the most dedicated, most creative, and hardest working people in the industry, a truly formidable talent of the sort our industry could do with more of.” 

After spending five years making video for God is a Geek in his spare time, he moved from Ireland to take a job as marketing assistant at Bossa Studios in 2015 – by then, God is a Geek had a GMA nomination for best video. 

He joined VideoGamer in October 2016 and was promoted to deputy editor a couple of months ago. 

He continues to produce both video and written work. While other sites often have different staff scripting, filming, performing and editing, Ahern does all of that himself for his videos.

Cloe Ashtari (25) - Content and creative manager, Multiplay

Since joining Multiplay in 2015, Cloe Ashtari has risen from graphic designer to content and creative manager. She ran all of the content and creative pieces for Insomnia61 and Brick Live events across the summer and delivered some amazing features across the shows and in the build up and post event media. She’s also been bringing her vision to globally relevant events such as Runefest and Minecon. 

Her work has been instrumental in the growth and development of the UK's biggest gaming festival – Insomnia – as it expanded beyond the RICOH to fill the halls of the Birmingham NEC. Ashtari is "consistently coming up with great ideas and bringing them to life," MCV has been told.

Chris Bratt (27) - Video producer, Eurogamer

Chris Bratt has joined Eurogamer's video team after a stint at VideoGamer. Permanently working, he's been described as "a delight to be with in both personal and professional settings" and "one of the best video guys in the industry." 

   He's behind Eurogamer's 'Here's A Thing' video series and is always pushing for how games, the companies that make them, and the scenarios they're made in should be better. He's also been described as "never afraid to go after a story despite pressures in the opposite direction."

Zoe Brown (28) - Senior producer, Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe

Zoe Brown started off her career in games two and a half years ago, as a development producer for Guitar Hero Live at FreeStyleGames, working extensively with the gameplay, networking and user interface teams. 

From there, she took the leap into publishing, quickly taking on the role of the Square Enix producer for Life is Strange: Before the Storm. In her role at Square Enix, she worked hard to ensure the game was creatively ambitious, of high quality, adhered to fan expectations of the franchise, and delivered on time. 

As of November, Brown has made the move to Sony as a senior producer on an unannounced project.

 

Dave Burroughs (29) - Junior PR manager, Ubisoft

As junior PR manager, Dave Burroughs has worked tirelessly behind the scenes on titles such as Mario & Rabbids, Ghost Recon Wildlands, the Assassin's Creed franchise, Just Dance, Trackmania Turbo and many more. He came into his own in mid-2015 after Ubisoft UK lost two of its senior PR managers, a difficult transition for any department, during which he stepped up to absorb many more front-line duties, providing no break in continuity during a loaded release period.  

Among the (many) praises MCV received about Burroughs, he's been described as "a mainstay at Ubisoft UK", "hardworking", "enthusiastic", "passionate", "always honest about what is and isn't realistic from a PR perspective" and simply "among the best to work with."

Grace Carroll (26) - Social media manager, Creative Assembly

Grace Carroll started her career in games at Jagex in 2014. She joined Creative Assembly in 2015 as social media manager. She worked tirelessly to promote Total War: Warhammer and then Total War: Warhammer II, managing the social media campaigns over several platforms in the run up to release, post-release and throughout the release of DLCs. 

She develops social media campaigns and strategies to optimise the promotion of the titles based on her interactions with the community and constantly feeds what she is learning back into the process to develop new ideas. Since she joined, the number of followers on the Total War Twitter account has more than doubled to over 89k. 

Awais Dar (23) - Trade analyst, Green Man Gaming

Described as the ‘Trading Data Wizard’ at Green Man Gaming, Awais Dar has played an integral role in the company’s growth, providing key trade and commercial insights that have helped the trading team meet their targets and increase revenue.

At just 23 years old, his complex business reports and forecasting models have supported many of the critical business decisions made by the management team, including stock management and company strategy. Before joining the business intelligence team, he built up his knowledge of the business and the industry by working in the content and customer support departments. 

Lewis Denby (28) - Director, Game If You Are

Starting as a journalist for Eurogamer, PC Gamer and PC Zone from the age of 18, Lewis Denby then joined BeefJack part-time as the editor of its online magazine at 21, and co-created successful indie game Richard & Alice on the side. He then went on to lead BeefJack's PR and marketing division. By 2016 he'd been promoted to head of operations and was in charge of building and developing company processes as well as contributing to new business development and company strategy.

He set up his own PR consultancy in October last year, Game If You Are, which specialises in publicising indie games and creative studios that otherwise wouldn't be able to afford high-end PR services.

Pontus Eskilsson (26) - Senior partnership manager EMEA, Twitch

Pontus Eskilsson entered the games industry at just 15, starting an esports website that became the third-largest in Sweden. This led him to Fragbite where he became the site’s director and grew it to become the largest esports news site in Sweden. He then created the premier tournament circuit for CS:GO, Dota, and StarCraft, Fragbite Masters, the pioneer of online tournament production as we know it today.

A milestone for Fragbite Masters was reached when Eskilsson sold brand activations to non-endemic companies, including McDonald’s and PokerStars. After Fragbite, he moved to Twitch in 2015 as the Nordic partnerships lead and was promoted to partnerships account manager for EMEA in less than six months. 

 

Ben Finch (30) - Marketing manager, nDreams

Ben Finch squeezes into this year's 30 Under 30 despite his age, as his birthday landed in between the end of nominations and us going to print. Finch's first role in the industry was at Sega, working his way up from marketing assistant to senior brand manager on the Sonic the Hedgehog brand. His highlight was the huge success Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, creating everything from the global packaging through to TV ads for over 20 countries. He also delivered Sonic to iOS audiences with the 250m+ downloaded Sonic Dash.

He joined nDreams in 2014, heading up its brand marketing team. He helped rebrand the company, and headed up all marketing activity on The Assembly, Perfect, Danger Goat and the upcoming Shooty Fruity. 

Amy-Marie Graves (27) - Community manager, Square Enix Collective

Before joining Square Enix in June 2017, Amy-Marie Graves has had stints in both the video game and film industries. 

She started her career at Universal Pictures in 2014, before joining the games industry as PR and community management trainee at Curve Digital in summer 2015.

At Square Enix, she primarily focuses on internal indie label Square Enix Collective, where she helps promoting and publishing the titles, as well as looking after the firm's social channels and community.

"Amy's confidence, experience, determination and motivation has grown as much as her passion for the games industry in just a few years," MCV has been told. 

Alexandre Grimonpont (27) - Senior publishing producer, Hi-Rez Studios Europe

Having started his career as a pro player at 14, Alexandre Grimonpont started to focus on content creation in 2013 and casted games on his spare time. He was noticed by Blizzard and was involved in the Starcraft 2 World Championship Series global final casting. He continued on this path for a little while and then started working on creating content in French for Blizzard's main events.

He joined Hi-Rez in 2016, managing the community team as well as PR, events, esports and influencer marketing across EMEA. He attented multiple European events in 2017, strengthening Hi-Rez's social media reach in several European languages and greatly increased interaction with players.

Josh Heaton (27) - Design manager and head of Gamer Creative, Gamer Network

Josh Heaton has been with Gamer Network since 2010, when he joined Eurogamer as a junior designer. Since then, he's continued to work on design for Gamer Network's portfolio of sites (Eurogamer, VG247, Rock Paper Shotgun and more). 

Additionally, he formed and heads up Gamer Creative, Gamer Network's in-house creative agency, which has helped thousands of developers and publishers (from indie to triple-A) with creative and design work for their marketing, earning accolades from around the industry. There are very few video game publishers out there who haven't worked with Heaton on design to help market their games at some point.

He's been described as "working incredibly hard behind the scenes."

Sofie Marien (25) - Social media and community manager, Good Catch Games

Sofie Marien looks beyond her role to the wider industry and has helped make it a more inclusive place for all players. 

She founded the PlayStation LGBT group and helped bring PlayStation to London Pride in 2017. At PlayStation, she was the Dutch community manager, promoting all first party and some third-party titles. She led the promotion of Horizon Zero Dawn, helping promote its diverse world to make its own space in the open world market, leading to this new IP’s success. 

Marien has just started at new publisher and developer Good Catch Games, lending her skill and experience from working at PlayStation for two and-a-half years.

 

 

Jessie Meola (28) - Senior marketing manager, Frontier Developments

Jessie Meola started her gaming career at Frontier Developments four years ago and has been with the publisher-developer from the very beginning of Frontier’s journey into self-publishing, starting out as marketing assistant and rapidly progressing through the ranks to oversee all Frontier’s marketing activities. 

Today, Meola manages a team overseeing product marketing, digital advertising and brand partnerships as the studio’s sole senior marketing manager, working on Elite Dangerous and Planet Coaster, and working closely with Universal Pictures on Frontier’s newest game, Jurassic World Evolution.

Nathan Mills (23) - Senior PR executive, Koei Tecmo Europe

Having started his career at Koei Tecmo just under two years ago, Nathan Mills has already reached the level of a senior member of staff. Before joining the publisher's UK office,  he had short stints at PR firms Wildfire PR and Stature PR, and has been running a YouTube channel for eight years.

As senior PR and marketing executive at Koei Tecmo, he's currently working on the marketing campaigns for titles such as Blue Reflection, Dynasty Warriors 9, Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon and Warriors All-Stars.

Described as "a vital member of the Koei Tecmo team" at only 23, Mills "has shown great growth, wisdom, insight and maturity in a role that requires a high degree of sensibility, levelheadedness and tenacity."

 

 

Hollie Pattison (25) - Community manager, Ripstone

Considered to be "a rising star in the industry," Hollie Pattison is "more than a community manager." As part of a small team, she gets involved in everything from media and influencer relations to writing store copy and aiding PR strategy. As well as the usual community management tasks of handling social media strategy and implementation, plus dealing with customer queries, she has grown Ripstone's Twitch channel from barely non-existent to a now Partnered channel with regular front-page featured streams.

She is also a SpecialEffect charity ambassador, helping to raise awareness as well as funds for the charity.

Daniela Pietrosanu (27) - Senior publicist, Premier PR

Having spent two years plying her trade at board game specialists Esdevium, Daniela Pietrosanu made the leap to Premier PR in October 2014 and quickly established herself as one of the sector’s finest. Having worked on numerous titles from smaller independent gems to triple-A leviathans, no project is too big for her hands. Most recently, she has become the current UK lead for Square Enix agency-side and helped deliver outstanding coverage for titles such as Hitman, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy XV. 

If that wasn’t enough, she is also part of the 'Them Video Dames' Twitch channel with former 30 Under 30 entrant, Lucy Pullinger.

Adam Raisborough (29) - Retail planning manager, Warner Bros

Adam Raisborough started his career in January 2013 as an insight analyst with Warner Bros, working across film, games, TV and family entertainment. He was promoted to senior insight analyst in 2015, quickly followed by a promotion to retail planning manager in 2016. Raisborough has worked on the successful launches and catalogue strategies of Dying Light, Batman: Arkham Knight, Mortal Kombat X and XL and Injustice 2, along with several Lego titles.

He also, from an analytical perspective, led on the launch of Shadow Of War. More recently, Raisborough has also been leading the effort within the UK to better harness and harmonise the process of digital games and mobile games data collection.

 

Megan Rice (24) - Business development executive, Ukie

At only 24, Megan Rice has already worked for the likes of Bossa Studios as marketing assistant, Curve Digital as studio manager and marketing assistant, and Playhubs as community manager. 

Joining Ukie in August last year, Rice has quickly risen to be at the forefront of expanding the work of the trade body, leading on key Ukie projects including the industry defining student membership and training courses. 

As the lead on the Ukie student programme, she's been giving talks and organising conferences and activities to help bring the industry and the academia closer together. 

Maria Laura Scuri (28) - Executive operations manager, FaceIt

Maria Laura Scuri started with FaceIt's core team in 2014 as an intern assisting with everything from customer support through to event management. She soon became executive assistant to the CEO and worked her way up to her current position. Together with the CGO, she now works alongside major game publishers assisting during the integration phase by coordinating several teams, making sure integrations standards are met before the game goes live and providing a launch strategy including social media and PR.

She follows a team of people that ensures all competitions on the platform, from the big qualifiers to ongoing tournaments, run smoothly and the best mix of competitions is offered. 

 

Adam Simmons (26) - VP content and marketing, Level Up Media

Prior to joining DingIt.TV, Adam Simmons combined competitive gaming and esports casting with his career as a Team GB Paralympian, competing in sprint kayaking.

In just under four years since joining a pre-launch DingIt he has overseen the platform's launch, growth and shift from live streaming to premium highlights content. The site has subsequently exploded in popularity to more than 40m unique monthly visitors. In February 2017 he was central to the creation of Level Up Media, with DingIt as the company's flagship site. This autumn Simmons led Level Up Media's launch of TheGamer.TV platform for mainstream gaming fans.

Simmons was also featured in a Channel 4 series on pro gamers.

Jen Simpkins (24) - Deputy editor, Edge

Jen Simpkins joined the industry at the end of 2015 as staff writer on Official PlayStation Magazine. The self-described ‘princess of print’ worked at the publication when it did the impossible: increasing its print circulation by nearly ten per cent. 

Simpkins was promoted to games editor in September 2016, before she left Official PlayStation Magazine in June 2017 to become deputy editor of Edge, less than two years into her career. 

Among the numerous praises MCV received about Simpkins, she has for instance been described as a "lovely, hardworking and strong woman who has done something unfounded by becoming the deputy editor of such a prolific magazine at such a young age and has a loyalty to print which is rare to see in this industry."

Lai-Ling Soo (27) - Marketing executive, Xbox UK

As marketing executive, Lai-Ling Soo is responsible for managing the Xbox presence at consumer gaming events in the UK. In the last year, these have included small events but also the biggest shows in the country such as EGX (80,000 attendees), EGX Rezzed (17,000 attendees) and Insomnia (50,000 attendees). 

Soo is also in charge of executing the firm's marketing campaigns, as well as managing Xbox UK's social channels which, combined, reach over 2.7m people. 

She's been described as "highly diligent, efficient and attentive to detail and always gets the job done on time, on budget and with a massive smile on her face."

 

Luke 'LTZonda' Taylor (23) - Content creator, founder of Streamers Connected

Luke 'LTZonda' Taylor is one of the most prolific content creators in the UK with a following of nearly 650k combined. 

This year, he set up Streamers Connected, a community for streamers and content creators gathering over 5,000 members. It's the UK's biggest Discord community and it offers content creators of all sizes the chance to learn, collaborate, network and share. 

Through his professionalism he has earned sponsorship with some of the biggest brands in the UK including Nvidia, Green Man Gaming and Corsair and he recently became the official UK brand ambassador for XSplit and Player.me.

Robin Valentine (29) - Editor, GamesMaster

Robin Valentine became editor of GamesMaster earlier this year, becoming one of the youngest editor of any of the UK games magazines. 

At this role, Valentine has been maintaining and strengthening GamesMaster's "passionate, slightly anarchic, unashamedly geeky spirit of the cult titles of the past," his colleagues told MCV. They continued: "His carefully-assembled team of writers delivers 100 pages packed with the joy of games, and some of the most excruciating jokes and puns you'll ever read, month after month. And he runs RPGs so is, quite literally, a gamesmaster."

Haley Uyrus (29) - PR and marketing manager, Failbetter Games

After a career in graphic design at Hasbro and Staples, plus three degrees (BFA Communications Design, MA Game Design & Theory, and MBA Creative Industries Management), Haley Uyrus started working in the games industry in 2014 at PR firm BeefJack, where she worked on over 25 indie games. In six months, she increased the company's income through its business development initiative by 167 per cent. She joined Failbetter Games in May 2016, originally looking after browser title Fallen London, before moving on to look after and strategise for RPG Sunless Sea (500k units sold) and upcoming Kickstarted game Sunless Skies. 

She's been labelled as "the woman with eight million degrees," her peers told MCV, as well as "resilient", "reliable" and with a "broad skillset."

Casey Vatcher (24) - Product manager, Nintendo UK

Casey Vatcher first started at Nintendo UK as a marketing intern in 2013. After completing his degree, he returned to Nintendo UK as an assistant product manager. Once in the role, Vatcher helmed campaigns for some of Nintendo UK’s biggest releases – the largest being the multi-award winning launch of Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon in 2016. Using this as a platform, he was then promoted to product manager in 2017 and now looks after the full Nintendo 3DS hardware and software family for the UK. 

"His growth and rise through the business has all come as a result of his willingness to learn, hard work and dedication to doing his best," MCV's been told.

Anita Wong (26) - Account manager, Indigo Pearl

In just under four years, Anita Wong has become one of the most recognisable faces in the UK video games industry, helping Indigo Pearl win three consecutive MCV PR Agency Awards. Never one to shy away from an event – or organise one herself – Wong has consistently been a frontline representative for Indigo Pearl, managing PR campaigns for the some of its biggest clients, including Activision Blizzard, Pokémon GO, Trion Worlds, Good Shepherd, and most recently Andy Serkis’ new studio The Imaginarium.

She's been described as "a tireless workhorse and dance floor diva," with her co-workers adding: "Anita’s presence is most notable when she’s not around – we simply wouldn’t be the same without her."

Rik Wortman (28) - Live events manager RuneScape, Jagex

The first words MCV received about Rik Wortman when the nomination period for 30 Under 30 began was that he's a unicorn, but not "an actual sparkly, rainbow emitting-unicorn" (which left us a bit disappointed really) but "a multi-talented tour-de-force marketing expert with a unique blend of skills."

At Jagex, Wortman works with RuneScape's live events team on monetisation, virtual item sales, time-limited events and competitive gaming, all designed with game KPIs first and foremost. This has led Jagex to record breaking performance for three consecutive years. 

Wortman has worked his way up from a player support representative to one of the most challenging and specialist roles in the industry.

Honourable mentions

Laura Durrant - Jagex  /   Rob Dwiar - Freelance writer  /  Adam Jenkins - Edelman – Xbox UK  /  Edward Lewis - Frontier Developments  /    

Daniel Pitt - Nintendo UK  / Kiron Ramdewar - PlayStack /  Otisha Sealy - Warner Bros  /  Claire Sharkey - Level Up Media  /   

Paul Stone - PressXtra.net – Indigo Pearl  / Victoria Wallace - Warner Bros  /   Alison Woods - Frontier Developments  /   

 

MCV's 30 Under 30 is sponsored by OPM Jobs

Civ 5 designer Jon Shafer leaves Paradox

And returns to his unfinished Kickstarter project At the Gates

Jon Shafer has left developer Paradox just six months after joining.

Shafer launched a Kickstarter for strategy title At the Gates in March 2013, raising over $100k. However, after the game was delayed well beyond its 2014 release date, the developer joined Paradox in March 2017, vowing to return to At the Gates further down the line.

"Jon is an ambitious person with a lot of drive and passion and he has led some good discussions in our teams over the past few months," Paradox’s executive VP of studios Mattias Lilja said.

"However, during the course of these discussions, it has become clear that we want different things creatively and we have therefore taken the mutual decision that it is best to part ways. We wish Jon the very best in the next part of his career and would like to thank him for his efforts during his time with us.”

Shafer’s statement revealed little more.

“Recently I've parted ways from Paradox. In the end it really was creative and cultural differences - I can't go into details and will simply leave it at that,” he told his Kickstarter backers. “I still love Paradox and its games, but things sadly just didn't work out. I'll still always be rooting for all my friends over there, and wish them the best of luck.

“So what's next? I'll be focusing on At The Gates again. I can honestly say it'll be nice to go back to working on it full-time now that I've had some space and can return with fresh eyes and enthusiasm.”

As for why his increasingly angry backers are still waiting for their game, Shafer added: “I got burned out, to be honest, and ultimately wasn't really sure how to wrap things up in a way I could be proud of. I'm a perfectionist, and at times that trait definitely works against me.

“It sounds obvious of course, but when you're years deep in a project, have a task list a mile long, and run your own company with one full-time employee it's easy to lose sight of the fact that actually finishing something is more important than making sure it's perfect. Needless to say, it's been a hard lesson.

“I made a few attempts at getting back into things but it became truly overwhelming at a certain point, so I stepped away. I'm not proud of that, and I apologise to all of the people I've let down. Making a full-scale 4X game mostly by yourself is an insane undertaking, and not one I would recommend. I thought I could pull it off within the time frame of a normal game's development cycle, but that was an incorrect assumption.

“I had hoped my time at Paradox would serve as a source of inspiration, and fortunately I was definitely right about that. I learned a lot even in the short amount of time I was there, and have a clear plan on the design front for how I want to finish up AtG now.”

Shafer has also promised project status updates on the first day of every month. So far in 2017 there have been three updates. In 2016 there was only one.

“As for when the game will be done, I can't say for certain until I've built a task list based on our new, final objectives and had a couple other folks double-check things, but the target is mid-2018,” he continued.

“Estimates from the last year or so have been based on part-time work, which is incredibly hard to get right with a big project like this, so I'm optimistic that things will turn out better this time. Could the game slip again? Of course, but I'll make sure to let you know if it does along with what progress we're actually making along the way.

“Thanks to all the backers and fans who've hung around over the years. I promise there truly is a good game here, we just need to finish it. It's been a long road, both for the game and me myself. But now it's time to finish what we started. Thanks for sticking with us.”

Budget extends UK Games Fund

Although the £1m pledged is less than recommendations suggested

Yesterday’s UK budget provided some welcome news for UK games studios, with confirmation of another £1m to extend the UK Games Fund until 2020.

This falls a fair way short of the £23.7m proposed in the Independent Review of the Creative Industries just two months ago, however, although does at least extend the Games Fund beyond its initially proposed lifespan.

There was also a boost for R&D spend and a slight bump in associated tax credits, as well as pledged to improve the provision of computer science in schools.

“We are pleased to see that the government has announced a further £1m to extend the UK Games Fund until 2020, a scheme that has enormously benefited early ideas and new companies,” Ukie CEO Jo Twist said.

“We therefore welcome the investment in maths and computer science teaching which provides a critical talent pipeline to the industry but we shall continue to push for more investment in skills of the future, securing access to the highly skilled talent that our sector needs, and the creation of culturally exciting British games.

“We look forward to hearing about more specific and targeted measures that may be introduced in the Industrial Strategy White paper, due to be published in the next few days. The team has worked really hard on all sorts of working groups as part of this process over this year.”

TIGA CEO Richard Wilson added: "The provision of a further £1 million to extend the UK Games Fund until 2020 is fantastic news and will help more start-ups and small studios access to finance and business. The expansion of Tech City UK's reach and further investment in R&D and AI is also good news for the video games industry and other high technology sectors.

"TIGA strongly supports the Government's plans to incentivise the study of maths - which is already the most popular A level subject - more computer science teachers and support for FE colleges to prepare for the introduction of T-Levels. The games industry, the creative sectors and the wider UK economy need a highly skilled, trained and educated workforce to compete successfully.”

PUBG could get a ‘socialist makeover’ in China

Tencent will “make adjustments to content ... and make sure they accord with socialist core values, Chinese traditional culture and moral rules”.

Tencent’s agreement to become the Chinese publisher of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds in the region could result in some drastic changes to the game for Chinese players.

The English language press release about Tencent and Bluehole’s partnership quotes Tencent’s senior VP Steven Ma as saying: “PUBG is currently the most popular survival shooter game, and is enjoyed by users all over the world. Tencent will localize and operate the game by catering to the preferences of Chinese gamers. We will also offer a different, fun experience on PC.”

However, Reuters’ translation of the Chinese release reads a little differently.

PUBG faced the looming threat of a possible Chinese ban earlier this month after the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association declared that it is “too bloody and violent” for sale in the country, “deviates from the values of socialism” and is “deemed harmful to young consumers”.

Now the company has said that it will “make adjustments to content ... and make sure they accord with socialist core values, Chinese traditional culture and moral rules”.

Reuters points out that Tencent rival Netease has inserted red banners carrying slogans such as “safeguard national security, safeguard world peace” into its title Wilderness and Terminator 2.

Tencent will run PUBG’s Chinese servers and has also vowed to help combat the game’s problem with cheaters. Recent measure introduced by the developers seem to have already led to a noticeable reduction in cheating, but any steps to eradicate it completely will be welcomed by the userbase.

Talk of Tencent acquiring PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds developer Bluehole has been doing the rounds for quite some time, with claims that Bluehole previously rejected an acquisition offer prior to the PUBG explosion. However, as Bluehole’s value continues to soar, rumours suggest that shareholders may now be veering back towards the idea of a sale.

In addition, an IPO is believed to remain impossible while Bluehole founder Chang Byung-gyu (who is also its largest shareholder) continues to serve as chairman of the Fourth Industrial Revolution committee, as he would almost certainly face calls of exploiting his position.

In September Bluehole confirmed that it was in discussions with Tencent about a possible equity acquisition, having just the month before denied such reports.

A PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds spokesperson did confirm to MCV’s sister site Esports Pro, however, that Tencent does not currently own a stake in either Bluehole or the more recently formed PUBG Corp.

Hellblade reaches profitability after 500,000 sales

“We weren't expecting the game to break even for nine months, yet we have cleared it in three”

Ninja Theory’s experimental psychological action title Hellblade has now reached 500k units sold.

That figure means the game has proved profitable, validating the studio’s decision to release a shorter, cheaper game than you’d typically find in the genre, but with a level of quality you’d expect from a premium title.

250k units were sold in its first week back in August. Overall revenue has now passed $13m.

"The game continues to exceed our expectations,” Ninja Theory’s Tameem Antoniades said. “We weren't expecting the game to break even for nine months, yet we have cleared it in three. This is a big deal because I'd say less than five per cent of developers make the breaking even point – it’s more like one or two per cent. The game came out of nowhere and surprised everyone."

 

 

Antoniades spoke about the game nearing profitability at the end of last month.

“It sold better than our expectations. I think it’s almost broken even, or it’s about to break even in the next couple of weeks. We weren’t expecting to break even for six, eight, nine months on this game. It looks like within three months, it will have broken even and then some. Of course, because we self-published it, it’s the first time we’re getting the bulk of the money back, which is amazing. We own the IP this time. It’s opened up a bunch of doors and possibilities that we just didn’t have until this point. In terms of a model, I’d say it is a success.

Antoniades also said that he’s been pleased with the maturity of the discussion that has surrounded Hellblade’s approach to the issue of mental health.

“I’ve been very surprised, to be honest, at how understanding people have been,” he added. “I thought the game would be very controversial, that there would be a camp that’s dead against what we were doing, and there would be quite a raging debate over whether it’s morally right to represent these things in a video game… In fact, the discussion around the game has been very mature and understanding, amongst gamers and amongst healthcare professionals.

“As you know, the gaming audience can be quite harsh and brutal when you get into discussing things anonymously online. To see quite a mature conversation surrounding this and to see people who have been touched by the game — it’s a better outcome than I imagined was possible.”

Gazillion staff reportedly sacked as Marvel Heroes closure is accelerated

Developers already out of a job as game termination is planned tomorrow

It seems as if Marvel Heroes will close a month ahead of schedule and that its developer Gazillion has been shut down.

The game’s termination was announced last week, at which time it was claimed that it would continue to operate until the end of the year. Now multiple reports, including the original from Massively OP, claim that the studio has already been closed.

Furthermore, as per an apparent leaked memo from Gazillion CEO Dave Dohrmann, it has been claimed that funding has been yanked from the studio and that all staff have already been laid off – and without their severance, promised benefits and accrued holiday pay.

Indeed, Gazillion staff such as Andrew Hair have confirmed the news on Twitter.

The game itself will also apparently go offline tomorrow (November 24th) – over a month ahead of previously announced December 31st date.

 

 

“We’re sad to inform our players and our entire Marvel Heroes family that Marvel Heroes Omega will be shutting down,” a statement on the game’s website said just last week.

“The Marvel Heroes servers will stay on until Dec 31, 2017, and we’ll be removing real money purchases as soon as possible. Players will be able to play the game entirely for free once this sunset period commences. We will share the exact date things go completely free as soon as we can.

“We’ve had the privilege of entertaining and collaborating with our players for over four years. We’re extremely humbled by that privilege and wanted to get this message out: Thank you. Thank you to our players, our tireless employees, and everyone involved in the life of Marvel Heroes, Marvel Heroes 2015, Marvel Heroes 2016, and Marvel Heroes Omega.”

Marvel Heroes originally released in 2013. It’s a free-to-play action RPG title that is supported with microtransactions. A console version for PS4 and Xbox One arrived under the name Marvel Heroes Omega was released in the summer. Gazillion signed a 10-year exclusivity deal to produce Marvel games in 2009.

Yesterday we reported that some players who sunk money into Marvel Heroes since its release only a few months ago are demanding refunds.

F2P PixelJunk Monsters coming to mobile via Kickstarter

Q-Games says microtransactions “aren't needed to progress in the game and there are no paywalls or timers to adversely affect your enjoyment”

Q-Games wants to make a mobile version of PS3 hit PixelJunk Monsters, and has turned to Kickstarter to do it.

As the game will be free-to-play, Kickstarter backers should theoretically still be able to play even without laying down cash – although should not enough people back it, it of course won’t come into being. The rewards include access to the game a month early, wallpapers, private chat groups and the like.

Being F2P means the game will use microtransactions, too.

“The microtransactions in PixelJunk Monsters Duo are limited to trading for Rainbow Gems, a form of in-game currency,” Q-Games said. “While microtransactions will not be active during prototype gameplay, there will be a login bonus in both the prototype and final game where players receive Rainbow Gems and see the extent to which they are involved with gameplay. The Rainbow Gems aren't needed to progress in the game and there are no paywalls or timers to adversely affect your enjoyment.

“Releasing PixelJunk Monsters Duo as free to play makes it easier for people new to the Monsters games to give it a try, while letting fans both new and old show us their support every now and then. It also allows us to keep developing content for the game after release and more easily incorporate feedback from those same fans.”

The game is not a port of the original, which after hitting PS3 eventually also arrived on Wii U, PSP, Vita and PC. The developer says it “is being created from the ground up, with new gameplay, graphics, and a play style adapted completely to mobile”. It also will not require a permanent internet connection.

The studio also says that Switch and PS4 ports may be possible should the mobile release happen and prove successful.

The game is seeking funding of £80,673, of which it has raised £5,223.

Marvel Heroes players are asking for refunds

Short lifespan of console title leaves microtransaction spenders feeling short-changed

Some players who sunk money into Marvel Heroes since its release only a few months ago are demanding refunds now the game is being shut down.

Kotaku reports on the case of a player called EITTurtle who has apparently spent in the region of $400 on the game since July. The money allowed him to unlock heroes such as Spider-Man and Captain America – all of which will be lost when the game shuts down in December.

“I know there a lot of hard working players out there that take pride in grinding and spending hours to unlock characters,” EITTurtle said. “I am not one of those people. . . for me, time is money.”

For PC players the pain is less pronounced, as many will have had plenty of opportunity to get their money’s worth from purchases since the game’s 2013 release. For many console players, however, a scant six months play time feels unfair.

Xbox support told EITTurtle that it was awaiting confirmation of how the situation would be handled. Anecdotal evidence suggests that while some players are being told refunds will not be offered, others have been told they can get their money back for purchases made in the last 90 days.

This remains one of the risks of online F2P games, however. Marvel Heroes’ own T&Cs, which are standard for games of this type, clearly state that: “All fees and/or charges incurred by a Gazillion Account Holder through the use of their Gazillion Account are non-refundable except in the following situation: If the Gazillion Account Holder who incurred the subject fees and/or charges can prove that the Gazillion Account Holder has been victimized by identity theft.

“Gazillion may at any time and from time to time revise, supplement, suspend, modify, or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, the System (or any part thereof) with or without notice to you, and terminate all licenses granted in these Terms of Service. You agree that neither Gazillion nor any of its affiliates, licensors, agents, or employees is liable to you or any third party for any revision, supplement, suspension, or discontinuation of the System, and termination of any license.”

Now Steam tweaks review system to combat spamming

“Alas, it turns out that not everyone is as helpful as we would like”

Valve’s ever-lasting attempts to ensure fair use of the Steam reviews system have now turned their attentions to the problem of review spamming.

The current system in part relies on users giving existing reviews a thumbs up or thumbs down for ‘helpfulness’. Like all of these mechanisms, it relies on the good will of users and is thus open to exploitation, normally by bots or community campaigns. That’s why sometimes you’ll see games with an overall positive rating flooded with negative reviews on their front page, and vice versa.

“Up to now, our system simply looked at how many people had rated each review as 'helpful' and how many people had rated it as 'not helpful' and then highlighted the ten reviews that the most percentage of people found helpful. Since games can change (sometimes dramatically) over time, we introduced a change a while ago that prioritizes showing recently-posted helpful reviews, as they are more likely to reflect the current state of the game,” Valve said.

“In a perfect world, people would truthfully mark a few reviews that were helpful for deciding to purchase or not purchase the game and we could use that data to directly determine the ten most helpful reviews. Alas, it turns out that not everyone is as helpful as we would like.

“Of the 11m people that have used the helpful buttons, most follow a reasonable pattern of usage. However, we found a small set of users on the far extreme that are clearly trying to accomplish something quite different from normal players, and are rating more than 10,000 reviews as helpful or unhelpful on a single game. This behavior is not only humanly impossible, but definitely not a thoughtful indication of how 'helpful' each of those reviews were. These users also tend to rate up just the negative reviews while rating down the positive reviews (or vice-versa) in an attempt to distort which reviews are shown by default.”

Valve says the contributions from these identified accounts will be vastly reduced, with the feedback from users who exhibit normal behaviour prioritised. It is also changing the presentation of store reviews to be more in line with a game’s overall rating.

Added Valve: “For example, if the game is reviewed positively by 80% of reviewers, then the ten reviews shown by default on the store page will be 80% positive, showing eight positive and two negative. This should keep the reviews shown on a game's page from being so easily manipulated by a few determined players and should more accurately represent the overall sentiment of the people playing the game.”

Tencent secures PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Chinese exclusivity

Will run servers, help crack down on cheaters and negotiate Chinese regulations

While signs have suggested this for some time, it has now been officially confirmed that Tencent will be the exclusive Chinese publisher of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

VentureBeat reports that Tencent will run the game’s Chinese servers and assist developer Bluehole in tackling the proposed Chinese regulations that at one stage looked as if could result in the game’s banning in China.

Tencent has also vowed to help combat the game’s problem with cheaters. Recent measure introduced by the developers seem to have already led to a noticeable reduction in cheating, but any steps to eradicate it completely will be welcomed by the userbase.

Talk of Tencent acquiring PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds developer Bluehole has been doing the rounds for quite some time, with claims that Bluehole previously rejected an acquisition offer prior to the PUBG explosion. However, as Bluehole’s value continues to soar, rumours suggest that shareholders may now be veering back towards the idea of a sale.

In addition, an IPO is believed to remain impossible while Bluehole founder Chang Byung-gyu (who is also its largest shareholder) continues to serve as chairman of the Fourth Industrial Revolution committee, as he would almost certainly face calls of exploiting his position.

In September Bluehole confirmed that it was in discussions with Tencent about a possible equity acquisition, having just the month before denied such reports.

A PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds spokesperson did confirm to MCV’s sister site Esports Pro, however, that Tencent does not currently own a stake in either Bluehole or the more recently formed PUBG Corp.

Belgium Gaming Commission says loot boxes ARE gambling and wants them banned in Europe

US politicians also smell blood and want video game loot boxes outlawed

Governments from both sides of the Atlantic have said they intend to take down video games loot boxes.

PC Gamer reports that after declaring it was investigating loot boxes last week, the Belgium Gaming Commission has decided that they ARE a form of gambling.

Furthermore, as a form of gambling targeted at minors, they are viewed as a danger – and should be banned. And not just in Belgium, either. The Commission wants a Europe-wide ban.

Obviously with Brexit muddying the equation it’s impossible to say whether any potential ban would also apply in the UK.

There’s pressure coming from the US, too, where Hawaiian House of Representative Democrat Chris Lee has said he intends to take steps to halt the “predatory behaviour” of video game publishers who use loot boxes, and is also seeking a ban.

“While we are stepping up to act in Hawaii, we have also been in discussions with our counterparts in a number of other states who are also considering how to address this issue,” Lee said, as reported by Kotaku.

“I believe this fight can be won because all the key bases of political support across the country are on the same side… And frankly, we don’t need to change the laws in every state - we just need to change a few and it will be enough to draw the line and compel change.

“These kinds of loot boxes and microtransactions are explicitly designed to prey upon and exploit human psychology in the same way casino games are so designed. This is especially true for young adults who child psychologists and other experts explain are particularly vulnerable. These exploitive mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all.”

New smartphone fighter Marvel Strike Force announced

Confirmed characters include Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, Ironman, Spider-Man, Thor, Doctor Strange, Groot, Star Lord and Daredevil

Hot on the heels of the closure of one Marvel game, another has risen from its ashes.

Disney’s Marvel and 21’st Century Fox’s FoxNext Games have unveiled Marvel Strike Force, which is described as a squad-based action RPG for mobiles. It’s due out in 2018.

Confirmed characters include Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, Ironman, Spider-Man, Thor, Doctor Strange, Groot, Star Lord and Daredevil. The language used in the announcement seems to suggest that FoxNext might be positioning it as an esport, or it could just be a turn of phrase.

“We talk about the game in terms of fantasy sports,” FoxNext Games president Aaron Loeb said, as reported by Variety. “We’re enabling the player to have their fantasy draft of characters from the Marvel Universe.”

The game will include both PvE and PvP, will be free-to-play and is the first title from FoxNext. It is being developed by Aftershock, which Fox acquired earlier this year while it was already working on the game. Loeb previously worked for Aftershock, and before that Kabam.

Disney last week confirmed the closure of Marvel Heroes and the termination of its partnership with developer Gazillion Entertainment.

“We’re sad to inform our players and our entire Marvel Heroes family that Marvel Heroes Omega will be shutting down,” a statement on the game’s website read. “The Marvel Heroes servers will stay on until Dec 31, 2017, and we’ll be removing real money purchases as soon as possible. Players will be able to play the game entirely for free once this sunset period commences. We will share the exact date things go completely free as soon as we can.

“We’ve had the privilege of entertaining and collaborating with our players for over four years. We’re extremely humbled by that privilege and wanted to get this message out: Thank you. Thank you to our players, our tireless employees, and everyone involved in the life of Marvel Heroes, Marvel Heroes 2015, Marvel Heroes 2016, and Marvel Heroes Omega.”

Marvel Heroes originally released in 2013. It’s a free-to-play action RPG title that is supported with microtransactions. A console version for PS4 and Xbox One arrived under the name Marvel Heroes Omega was released in the summer.

Gazillion signed a 10-year exclusivity deal to produce Marvel games in 2009.

Kickstarted Project Phoenix accused of being a scam

Allegations that there was never any real intention to release the game

Big-money Kickstarter title Project Phoenix has been engulfed by accusations of foul play.

The game, which brings together some of the biggest names in the world of Japanese RPGs including Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, Final Fantasy illustrator Kiyoshi Arai and Diablo III and Valkyria Chronicles veteran Hiroaki Yura, smashed its $100k target on its first day back in 2013.

Having gone on to raise over $1m, in 2015 it was delayed to 2018, and now fears are growing that it will never materialise at all.

Kotaku reports that director Yura said earlier this year that he would release another game first. His explanation was that if said title was successful, other investors would be willing to jump on board to further fund Project Phoenix.

Ahead of the release of this ‘other’ game – Area 35’s Tiny Metal, which launches on December 21st – game developer and former Tiny Metal marketing and PR manager Tariq Lacy penned an accusatory post on the Project Phoenix Kickstarter page, which has since been removed.

“Two months after I was hired at Area 35, I had learned that the company funded this project by running a scam through Kickstarter,” he said. “After they received the Kickstarter money for Project Phoenix, they subsequently shut down their original company (Creative Intelligence Arts, or ‘CIA’), then used that same money to establish Area 35 and pay for staff, equipment, and an office to make Tiny Metal.”

Lacy also alleges that there was never any intention to release Project Phoenix, that crowdsourced money was only sourced as it would not require the developers to be held accountable to investors, and that Yura ordered him to deflect questions about financing – an order he refused, hence his split from the company.

Yura has denied all of the allegations.

“The post was posted by a staff whose contract has been bought out due to him being a toxic employee who has sexually harassed our female staff amongst many other problems,” he told Kotaku. “The post is factually incorrect and thus was deleted from our account. That’s all we have to say for now, we’re looking into releasing legal documents and other proofs after discussing this with our lawyer.”

Clicker Heroes 2 ditches microtransactions for ‘ethical reasons’

“It probably isn't worth nearly as much money, but at least we can do it with a cleaner conscience”

The studio behind the in-development Clicker Heroes 2 has said that game is ditching free-to-play to become a premium game.

The first game was free to download but supported by microtransactions, which allowed the player to progress faster. Its sequel, however, will cost now cost $29.99 to buy but will be microtransaction free.

Furthermore, those who pre-order the game will be able to apply for a full refund for up to a year after launch.

“Games are inherently addictive. That alone is not a bad thing, until it gets abused,” a statement from developer Playsaurus said. “In Clicker Heroes 1, we never tried to abuse players with our real-money shop, and for the most part we designed it without the shop in mind so that you never have to purchase rubies to progress.

“Despite this, we found that some number of players spent many thousands of dollars on rubies. I can only hope that these people could afford it, and that they were doing it to support us, and not to feed an addiction. But I strongly suspect that this is not the case.

“We made a lot of money from these players who spent thousands. Great. If you're rich, please be my guest. But we don't want this kind of money if it came from anyone who regrets their decision, if it made their lives significantly worse as a result. We really don't like making money off players who are in denial of their addiction. And that's what a large part of free-to-play gaming is all about. Everyone in the industry seems to rationalize it by shifting the blame, assuming way too much cognizance on the part of their victims. People can make their own decisions, right? But it just doesn't sit well with me.

“But going forward we're going to at least try the paid-up-front model for our business. It may or may not work. It probably isn't worth nearly as much money, but at least we can do it with a cleaner conscience.”

Clicker Heroes 2 will be released some time in 2018.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds claims 7 Guinness World Records

And also sets yet another concurrent user record on Steam

2017 success story PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has capped off an incredible debut on the market by claiming no less than seven different Guinness World Records.

These records are:

  • Most actively played video game on Steam – Recorded a peak of 1,984,278 concurrent players as of Oct 10th, 2017*
  • Fastest time for a Steam Early Access video game to gross $100 million in revenue – 79 days, achieved on June 10, 2017
  • First non-Valve video game to be the most played game on Steam – First topped the Steam charts on Aug 27th, 2017
  • Fastest time for a Steam Early Access video game to sell one million units – 16 days
  • Most concurrent players for a Steam Early Access video game – 2.6m
  • Most concurrent players on Steam for a non-Valve video game – 2.6m
  • The first video game to reach 2m concurrent players on Steam

*Note that this number has since been well and truly trounced. The game this week hit a new concurrent user record – 2,866,566 players.

PUBG’s Guinness win was announced at the Golden Joystick awards, where it also picked up the PC Game of the Year and Best Multiplayer Game prizes.

“We are thrilled to be acknowledged by Guinness World Records for our momentum, massive growth, and more importantly how engaged our fans have been with PUBG,” PUBG Corp boss CH Kim said. “We strive to make the best game we possibly can, and deeply thank all the players and viewers that have taken this journey with us.”

PUBG Corp COO Woonghee Cho added: “We’re honored by the passion and excitement that the PUBG community has shown for the game. Thank you to everyone who has supported PUBG since our Early Access launch in March, and we’re looking forward to making the game an even more enjoyable experience leading into our PC 1.0 and Xbox Game Preview launches in December.”