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.”

Analyst says gamers are ‘undercharged’ and EA should increase Battlefront 2 prices

“This saga has been a perfect storm for overreaction as it involves EA, Star Wars, reddit, and certain purist gaming journalists/outlets who dislike microtransactions”

In an almost admirable act of overt trolling, one US analyst has argued that EA’s decision to temporarily halt microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront 2 was a mistake.

“The handling of the launch by EA has been poor,” KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst Evan Wingren, as reported by CNBC. “Despite this, we view the suspension of microtransactions in the near term as a transitory risk.”

Wingren’s argument is that games offer tremendous value for money on a cost-per-hour basis. He said that if a Battlefront 2 owner spent $60 upfront on the game and an additional $20 per month on microtransactions, with an average play time of 2.5 hours per day for a year, that would work out at 40 cents per hour. In contrast, TV works out at around 60-65 cents per hour and movies between 80 cents and $3 per hour.

You do have to ask how many people will play a specific game for 2.5 hours every single day for a whole year, however.

"If you take a step back and look at the data, an hour of video game content is still one of the cheapest forms of entertainment,” he added. “Quantitative analysis shows that video game publishers are actually charging gamers at a relatively inexpensive rate, and should probably raise prices.

"Gamers aren't overcharged, they're undercharged. This saga has been a perfect storm for overreaction as it involves EA, Star Wars, reddit, and certain purist gaming journalists/outlets who dislike microtransactions.

"Despite its inconvenience to the popular press narrative, if you like Star Wars and play video games at an average rate, you're far better off skipping the movie and playing the game to get the most bang for your buck.”

Newbay unites video games group under MCV

MCV, Develop & Esports Pro to unite under the MCV brand to bring new, 360° coverage of the B2B video games market

NewBay, the publisher of MCV, Develop and Esports Pro, announced today that it will be evolving its UK-based video games brand portfolio into a single website, magazine, and suite of events, under the banner of MCV.

The brand will be led by the current Editor, Seth Barton, who said “MCV is evolving to become one brand for the entire UK games industry. Whether you're an indie searching for the best partner for your next game, an esports tournament provider looking for new sponsors, a retailer wanting to maximise its community reach, a publisher acquiring new capabilities to push engagement, a mobile studio that needs better data analysis, or even a media planner considering AR as part of its next triple-A campaign.

These are all parts of our industry and MCV will reflect every diverse aspect of it, with up to date analysis and insight. It will help everyone make better informed business decisions, and provide an independent and trusted platform for the industry to communicate through.”

From January 2018, MCV, Develop & esports pro will exist as one entity, under the banner of MCV, with one bigger monthly magazine, one mobile optimised, new look website including new jobs platform, and a suite of events tailored for the industry. This structure will better reflect the changing nature of the games industry, while continuing to highlight the latest trends across publishing, development, eSports, and everything in between.

The Develop Awards, MCV Awards, Future Games Summit, Women in Games and a forthcoming esports focused event will continue to serve the industry with a plethora of high quality opportunities for networking and talent recognition.

Mark Burton, Managing Director of NewBay stated, “NewBay must continually evolve our offerings to keep pace and remain the premier source of information on the UK video games industry. We are committed to promoting this industry as one of the most interesting and vibrant creative businesses out there, and we are excited and confident that these changes will create new opportunities and enable us to provide the best possible service to our clients and readers.”

EA adjusts progression in Need for Speed Payback following microtransaction criticism

Earning stuff becomes a bit easier in EA’s other big Q4 title

Such is the scale of the Star Wars Battlefront 2 outcry that another quieter controversy surrounding microtransactions in EA’s Need for Speed Payback has slipped under a lot of people’s radars.

The game entered the UK charts at No.4 last week but this week dropped all the way to 11th. The reviews have not been especially kind, and the most critical have lamented the fact that the game’s loot box system results in a quite frustrating late-game grind – that can be alleviated via purchasing microtransactions.

The new changes include increased REP and Bank for taking part in events. Bait crates also now give more REP and Bank, as does competing against a Roaming Racer. Air Suspension Shipments will now become more frequent, while the rewards for finishing a race outside of the top spot have also been ‘slightly’ increased.

“We’ve been working on improving your experience with the progression,” an announcement on Reddit confirmed. “We’ve been using Community feedback, along with our own in-game data and have come up with a number of changes, many of which are in the process of going live. Our aim with these changes is to make the progression, especially around the ownership of cars a much more enjoyable experience.

“If you're currently playing the game while reading this, please restart in order for the changes to come into effect.

“[These] changes are just phase one and we have further tweaks coming. Coming shortly will be some changes to the way tune-up shops work, especially around the quality/level of parts they stock. More on that soon.

“It is worth noting that we do encourage you to recycle your speed cards for tokens. Targeted rolls are a very good alternative to tune-up shops. Definitely worth buying out the parts from the tune-up shop and recycling them.”

Zelda Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn shine at Golden Joysticks

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Cuphead also scoop multiple prizes

Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Cuphead were all big winners at this year’s Golden Joystick Awards.

Nintendo’s Zelda game picked up four awards – Ultimate Game of the Year, Best Audio, Nintendo Game of the Year and Critics’ Choice. Developer Nintendo EPD also won the Studio of the Year accolade.

Also scooping four prizes was Horizon Zero Dawn, which won Best Storytelling and Best PlayStation, while lead star Ashly Burch grabbed Best Gaming Performance and the Breakthrough Award.

PC hit PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds won Best PC and Best Multiplayer, while retro shooter Cuphead grabbed Best Visual Design and Best Xbox game.

Here are the winners in full:

Best Storytelling - Horizon Zero Dawn
Best Visual Design - Cuphead
Best Audio - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Best Gaming Performance sponsored by The Sun - Ashly Burch (Horizon Zero Dawn)
Best Indie Game in collaboration with Square Enix Collective - Friday the 13th: The Game
Best Multiplayer Game sponsored by GT Omega - PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds
Studio of the Year - Nintendo EPD
Best VR Game - Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Esports Play of the Year sponsored by Intel - Agilities
Esports Team of the Year - Lunatic-Hai
Esports Game of the Year sponsored by Omen by HP - Overwatch
Best Streamer / Broadcaster - Markiplier
Handheld / Mobile Game of the Year sponsored by Bespoke Arcades - Pokémon Sun and Moon
Nintendo Game of the Year - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
PlayStation Game of the Year - Horizon Zero Dawn
Xbox Game of the Year - Cuphead
PC Game of the Year - PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds
Critics' Choice Award - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breakthrough Award sponsored by Badfly - Ashly Burch
Hall of Fame - Final Fantasy
Most Wanted Award - The Last of Us Part 2
Still Playing Award - World of Tanks
Outstanding Contribution to the UK Games Industry sponsored by The Telegraph - Debbie Bestwick MBE
Lifetime Achievement - Sid Meier
Ultimate Game of the Year - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp will arrive on smartphones this week

Will be released on both iOS and Android this week on November 22nd

Nintendo has dated its next smartphone title.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp will be released on both iOS and Android this week on November 22nd.

Visually the game will be very similar to anyone who has ever played previous entries in the series. The main difference is the camping theme, although many of the included activities and mechanics are borrowed from previous games.

Players will be able to customise their RV and the campground area in which they live, and visit shops run by series’ mainstays. Upgrading your RV will be done via trips to OK Motors, which of course will allow you to run up huge levels of debt. This is Animal Crossing after all!

Other new additions include crafting, with materials granted by completing quests. Players will be able to craft things like a merry-go-round and half-pipe. There will also be friendship levels for the other animals, which can be increased by performing errands or handing over gifts.

Of course, underpinning it all is a virtual currency (Leaf Tickets) which can either be earned in-game or purchased for money. Quotes the game's announcement release: “Leaf Tickets can be earned through regular gameplay or purchased using real-world money, and can be used in a variety of ways in the game. For example, they can be used to shorten the time needed to craft items, more easily acquire materials or acquire unique camper exterior designs.”

Multiplayer activities will require the sharing of game IDs.

“As our past mobile games have proved, we love taking established and well-loved franchises and transforming them for the ways players use their devices,” NoA’s senior VP of sales and marketing Doug Bowser said. “Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is great for newcomers to the series as well as longtime fans, and ideal for people playing on a mobile device.”

CD Projekt calms fears about Cyberpunk 2077 monetisation

“No bullshit, just honest gaming like with Wild Hunt – we leave greed to others”

The Witcher developer CD Projekt has spoken out to quell concerns about the possible use of a ‘games-as-a-service’ model in upcoming RPG Cyberpunk 2077.

“Worry not,” the studio said in a reply on Twitter. “When thinking CP2077, think nothing less than The Witcher 3 — huge single player, open world, story-driven RPG. No hidden catch, you get what you pay for — no bullshit, just honest gaming like with Wild Hunt. We leave greed to others.”

The statement comes after a Polish video interview in which the studio’s CEO Adam Kiciński spoke about the inclusion of possible new models in the upcoming game.

“We want to experiment in new fields that were not yet explored in the Witcher,” Kiciński said, as reported by TechRaptor. “I can’t say much about Cyberpunk, although our ambitions are set really high because that is our style of work. We want to go even higher, and especially seeing how we’re having a business chat, we’re interested in Cyberpunk being commercially even more significant.

“Online is necessary, or very recommended if you wish to achieve a long-term success. At some point, we have mentioned that there will be a certain online element related to Cyberpunk.”

He also stated the following about CD Projekt’s card game Gwent: “Multiplayer is strategically important, playing online is strategically important, because we want to have a commercial leg for service type games, games which generate stable income, period to period, which are built. Of course, every game ends after a number of years, some service type games function even after 10 years, but outside our main source of income, meaning big names, it’s building a stable source of income.

“And in the future, we can imagine a lot of connections between big games and service type games – we have to acknowledge it, it is obvious.”

Call of Duty: WWII is still No.1 as Star Wars Battlefront 2 charts at No.2

Six new entries enter the Top 10 while Skyrim VR outperforms Skyrim Switch

The controversial Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has debuted at No.2 in the UK Top 40.

It’s not yet clear how sales compared to that of its predecessor, although note that the first Battlefield charted at No.1 in November 2015 and boasted the largest ever UK launch for a Star Wars title.

Instead, Call of Duty: WWII charts at No.1 for the third week in a row, with EA’s FIFA 18 again sitting at No.3.

Nintendo’s new duo of Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon enter the listings at No.4 and No.5 respectively, while Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Origins drops three places to No.6 ahead of two new entries – EA’s The Sims 4, which arrives on consoles, and Rockstar Games' (Take-Two) LA Noire Remastered, at No.7 and No.8 respectively.

Super Mario Odyssey drops another three places this week to No.9, while the Top 10 is rounded off with another new entry – LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2.

At No.19 there’s a debut for Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR, whose performance claims the title of best-ever week one for a third-party VR title. The strongest ever VR week one is still claimed by Sony’s PlayStation VR Worlds, which itself re-enters the charts at No.21. The Switch version of Skyrim debuts at No.26.

Here’s the UK Top 10 in full for the week ending November 18th:

  1. Call of Duty: WWII (Activision)
  2. Star Wars Battlefront 2 (EA)
  3. FIFA 18 (EA)
  4. Pokemon Ultra Sun (Nintendo)
  5. Pokemon Ultra Moon (Nintendo)
  6. Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft)
  7. The Sims 4 (EA)
  8. LA Noire Remastered (Rockstar/Take-Two)
  9. Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo)
  10. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 (Warner Bros)

Streamer criticised for beating and refunding a Steam game live on air

“If my actions truly did violate/abuse Steam's refund policy, my request would have been denied”

Twitch streamer WeeGeeTheGod has been criticised for what some are calling an abuse of Steam’s refund policy.

Polygon reports that WeeGeeTheGod, whose real name is Cade McKown, recently streamed a complete playthrough of recent Sega release Sonic Forces. McKown was clearly not enjoying the game, and upon completion then streamed himself applying for a Steam refund.

Steam’s policy allows titles that have been played for under two hours and owned for two weeks or less to be refunded. There is often a little wiggle-room in these guidelines, and indeed, the streamer was refunded despite a total playtime of two hours and forty minutes.

McKown’s explanation for the legitimacy of the refund is a little muddled. On the Steam refund page he wrote that “I thought that this was a different Sonic game and I meant to buy another one instead of this one”.

However, he gave a different reason to Polygon, stating: “As hard as it is for some to believe, I played a video game on stream to have fun, not to nefariously milk it for Twitch donations. After beating the entire game in under three hours and coming to the conclusion that it was absolutely abysmal, I requested a refund with the reason being: ‘It's not fun.’”

He added that “if my actions truly did violate/abuse Steam's refund policy, my request would have been denied”, and pointed out that he has requested a refund live on stream before for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Steam introduced its current refund policy over two years ago. It has been criticised of developers of smaller games with completion times of under two hours, as there is little to stop gamers playing a game to its completion and then getting their money back.

EA insists loot boxes are not gambling despite Dutch and Belgian investigations

“A player’s ability to succeed in the game is not dependent on purchasing crates”

In the hours leading up to its decision to suspend Star Wars Battlefront 2’s loot crate spending, EA has argued that the system is not a form of gambling.

This is despite the news that two European countries are investigating just that question.

Gamasutra reports that Belgian Gaming Commission general director Peter Naessens is investigating whether the systems found in games such as Battlefront II and Overwatch qualify as gambling. Eurogamer elsewhere reports that authorities in the Netherlands are doing exactly the same.

"The crate mechanics of Star Wars: Battlefront II are not gambling," EA told GameSpot. "Creating a fair and fun game experience is of critical importance to EA. The crate mechanics of Star Wars Battlefront II are not gambling. A player’s ability to succeed in the game is not dependent on purchasing crates. Players can also earn crates through playing the game and not spending any money at all. Once obtained, players are always guaranteed to receive content that can be used in game."

Should it be declared that loot boxes were a form of gambling – and then, of course, one that is being potentially targeted at minors – the repercussions for the video games industry would be severe. Blizzard faced a similar situation in China and was forced to reveal the odds on loot box contents, but this could just be the tip of the iceberg.

The UK government responded to a question on the issue last month, but its stance remains somewhat ambiguous.

“The government recognise the risks that come from increasing convergence between gambling and computer games. The Gambling Commission is keeping this matter under review and will continue to monitor developments in the market,” Tory MP at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport Tracey Crouch said.

“Where items obtained in a computer game can be traded or exchanged outside the game platform they acquire a monetary value, and where facilities for gambling with such items are offered to consumers located in Britain a Gambling Commission licence is required. If no licence is held, the Commission uses a wide range of regulatory powers to take action.

“Protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling is one of the core objectives of the regulation of gambling in Great Britain and a priority for the government. The Gambling Commission have a range of regulatory powers to take action where illegal gambling is taking place. Earlier this year the Gambling Commission successfully prosecuted the operators of a website providing illegal gambling facilities for in-game items which was accessible to children - the first regulator in the world to bring such an action.”

Green Man Gaming appoints McGregor as CMO

“I have closely followed Green Man Gaming’s remarkable journey over the years”

Ian McGregor has been named as the new chief marketing officer of digital retailer Green Man Gaming.

McGregor’s career includes stints at Activision and EA, and he has previously worked on games including FIFA, The Sims and Call of Duty. GMG notes his involvement in launching the FIFA Interactive World Cup. He has also worked at Publicis London and a number of tech and ecommerce startups.

His role will focus on GMG’s international growth, as well as marketing and customer experience. He officially joins the company on December 1st.

“We are very excited to have Ian join the senior management team at a time when we are looking to take Green Man Gaming’s brand and marketing activities to the next level, as we continue expanding the business internationally,” GMG CEO and founder Paul Sulyok said.

“Ian’s extensive industry experience at top game publishers, innovative marketing mind-set and ability to bring different teams together to deliver impactful results is critical for us to achieve our aggressive targets to continue our fast growth.”

McGregor added: “I have closely followed Green Man Gaming’s remarkable journey over the years as it has grown to become a critical part of the gaming ecosystem. This is the perfect time for me to join the business, as it seeks to accelerate growth, build market share and deliver more products and services to its growing customer base.

“The passion I have for video games is shared by everyone in the Green Man Gaming team, and I look forward to working with all of them to plan for the future as the business expands and grows at fast pace.”

US market dips in October despite hardware growth

Switch is October’s best-selling hardware, although PS4 retains the overall 2017 lead

NPD has said that the overall video game market spend in the US in October was down 11 per cent year-on-year at $825m.

That’s despite gains in the hardware market, which was up ten per cent at $238m. Switch was the month’s best-selling platform, with Nintendo adding that: “When combined with the Nintendo 3DS family of systems, Nintendo systems accounted for two-thirds of all video game hardware sold in the United States for the second month in a row.”

Furthermore, the SNES Mini was actually the second best selling platform for the period.

For the year-to-date, the PS4 remains the best-selling US machine, and so far the year’s hardware spend is up 19 per cent at $2.3bn. NPD says that “consumer spending on Nintendo Switch, Plug N Play devices such as the SNES Classic and the PS4 continue to provide growth”, with no mention of the Xbox One.

Software sales for the month were down 20 per cent year-on-year at $474m, although year-to-date is up three per cent.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War was October’s best-selling game, beating the month one performance of predecessor Shadow of Mordor by over 20 per cent.

Super Mario Odyssey charted at No.3 for the month, although with digital sales excluded, the plumber (or not plumber now?) comes out on top. The biggest gains were found in the racing genre, sales of which doubled over last year.

For the 12 months ending October, Destiny 2 replaces Battlefield 1 to become the second best-selling game. Bungie’s shooter is also the best-selling game in 2017 to date. Ubisoft was the month’s best performing publisher. Take-Two’s NBA 2K is also the best-selling sports game both in the last 12 months and year-to-date.

EA pulls microtransactions from Star Wars Battlefront II… for now

“Sorry we didn’t get this right”

Publisher EA has bowed to the ever-growing pressure being heaped on Star Wars Battlefront II by disabling the game’s microtransactions completely.

The move can be seen as a victory for the vocal critics who have being piling on the publisher non-stop for the last couple of weeks. EA, however, has made it clear that intends to reintroduce currency purchases at some stage down the line once it feels it has correctly balanced the shooter’s ecosystem.

“As we approach the worldwide launch, it's clear that many of you feel there are still challenges in the design. We’ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we’ve heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn’t get this right,” DICE GM Oskar Gabrielson said.

“We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases. We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay. The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game. We’ll share more details as we work through this.”

Ultimately, this can be viewed as a reduction in choice. Those who didn’t want to spend money on microtransactions never had to, and any that might have chosen to – which, make no mistake, some people undoubtedly would have done – now cannot.

Is that a positive move? Certainly if the system that was previously in place had given paying customers an unfair advantage, then yes. Although if EA’s argument in its Reddit AMA that matchmaking would ensure players would only face off against others with similar loadouts is correct, perhaps that isn’t the case.

If nothing else the lesson here is most definitely that while customers will accept microtransactions in certain situations, their presence in full-price triple-A games will be divisive. That is unless such purchases are wholly separate to player progression and character levelling. Overwatch remains the shining example here, with its cosmetic purchases being largely controversy-free.

But like all things, this is not a level playing field. Take fellow Blizzard title Hearthstone, for example. It’s hard to think of another game whose odds are stacked so heavily in favour of the big-spending player, but while there has been growing annoyance at its buying model, it has suffered none of the headline-grabbing hostility endured by Battlefront 2. Perhaps that’s a result of it being a fantasy card game and not a mainstream movie license.

If microtransactions in triple-A games do prove unviable, however, the question must be what comes next. A return to Season Passes? They were never popular, although certainly they rarely engendered the same level of fury we’ve seen here. And the fact remains that if microtransactions will not be tolerated, something else must rise in their place – the only alternative is the end of the triple-A big budget console title. Some would likely celebrate that news too, but in an industry where it’s imperative to cater to all tastes, the demise of gaming’s equivalent of the summer blockbuster would be entirely detrimental.

 

Sony gets serious about PlayStation VR with £250 Black Friday deal

£250 bundle is a breakthrough price for PS VR

We recently saw Sony use its Paris Games Week event to promote an enviably broad line-up of new content for its PlayStation VR headset. But all the content in the world won't help if the installed base of headsets isn't big enough to benefit from it. However, Sony took a major step to boost that number today, with the announcement of a price-slashing £250 PS VR 'Black Friday' deal.

Starting from midnight tonight consumers will be able to pick up the PlayStation VR Starter Pack for just £250, a £100 saving on the current price. In addition they can choose either Elder Scrolls V: Syrim VR or Gran Turismo Sport for no extra cost. That's a potential saving of around £150. The deal runs until the 27th November at 23:59 and will be available from numerous outlets - as this is Sony's maximum recommended retail price for the bundle.

That puts the PS VR at a far more agreeable price point for gifting this Christmas season.

The Starter Pack contains the PlayStation VR Headset, PlayStation Camera and the PlayStation VR Worlds compilation of shorter experiences, giving the purchaser a wide range of experiences to play with immediately. The deal should hugely increase the number of PS VR headsets in the UK.

This new development is much-needed to give VR the momentum it deserves in the holiday season. On stage at the Paris event Jim Ryan, head of global sales and marketing said: "We're witnessing the birth of new styles of gaming, storytelling and visceral experiences … The future of PlayStation VR is extremely bright," and we certainly wouldn't disagree now.

UIG: a simulation giant

Stefan Berger, head of business development at UIG, tells MCV about the state of the simulation genre, the company’s shift from PC to consoles and its distribution partnership with Austrian publisher Toplitz Productions

Stefan Berger, head of business development at UIG, tells MCV about the state of the simulation genre, the company’s shift from PC to consoles and its distribution partnership with Austrian publisher Toplitz Productions.

Can you tell us a bit more about UIG for those who are unfamiliar with your work?

United Independent Entertainment (UIG) is a German-based distributor, publisher and developer founded in 2005. After a long time successfully publishing and developing PC games, we decided to start creating our own games for multiplatform release. For more than a year now we’ve been releasing games for console and PC and are happy to say that our new distribution strategy works out very well.

UIG owns many successful brands like the internationally beloved Giant brand, most recently seen in Industry Giant 2, as well as Realms of Arkania, which is very well known since the 90s.

We are also specialised in releasing simulator games to the worldwide market – Professional Farmer, or the Agricultural Simulator, sold more than 500,000 units just on PC alone. The key for us is to develop good quality games and release them for a fair price, on all platforms.

You’ve been focusing more and more on multiplatform releases – what was the thinking behind this shift in strategy?

There are a lot of gamers around the world who are looking for new good content for various genres. We are aware that we are focusing on a niche market when developing our simulation games for consoles but there is still a market for those games.

They are very family friendly, non-violent and offer good quality gameplay and graphics. The fair price point strategy, combined with the niche topics, sold very successfully. Now that we’ve gained experience in releasing games on console, we are planning to release games in other genres too.

"Professional Farmer, or the Agricultural Simulator, sold more than 500,000 units just on PC alone. The key for us is to develop good quality games and release them for a fair price, on all platforms"

Would you say that PC games are still UIG’s main activity?

We deliver on all platforms. PC is still part of our strategy but our focus lies for sure on the various console platforms. So I would say we still work on our solid PC business but are extending the console business every day. So in the next few months a lot of new console games will hit stores.

How would you assess the current state of the simulation genre?

This market is still a strong niche yet it offers a huge potential to us as a publisher to meet the growing expectations of the community. Simulator fans are very loyal and they are a very active community. If they like your games, they will stay with you and play as long as their expectations are satisfied. There are such a lot of different topics we are working on for sims on PC and console currently. So we offer new settings, topics and gameplay to our fans.

But next to the standard simulation games we are more than proud to be the distributor for our new partner Toplitz Productions. They are working on an amazing and unique mix of driving simulation and life simulation with Farmer’s Dynasty (pictured left). It offers a totally new gaming experience.

The player takes over the role of a young man who inherits a farm from his grandpa in a very poor shape. It’s his challenge to build it up, repair things, build up social connections to the neighbours, find a wife and start a family life and, of course, take care of the fields, animals and crops to earn money. An amazing concept, which offers more than any other simulation.

Can you tell us a bit more about how this partnership with Toplitz came to be and what we can expect from it?

Toplitz Productions is a new publisher based in Austria, in Irdning. It focuses on the creation of games with “heart and soul” and are working on some amazing products such as Farmer’s Dynasty and a family game called My little Riding Champion as well as an amazing simulation series called City Patrol, in which the player takes on the role of a police officer and has to banish crime from the city streets. High quality graphics and long-term fun promise a huge success for this brand as well. We are very proud to be their exclusive retail partner and are convinced that these unique products will do very well in worldwide retail stores.

What are your expectations for Q4 and Christmas?

Well, this is the first Christmas period in which we have a lot of console products out in stores, so it’s very exciting for us to see the products on the shelves of international retailers. In some territories we are placing our products directly into stores, in others we are working with very experienced partners like CentreSoft in the UK. This cooperation makes us certain that our products are placed perfectly and will be noticed by the target group. We expect a strong Q4 at retail and are convinced that our quality/price policy will work out very well worldwide.

What are your ambitions in the long run?

We are enforcing our multiplatform strategy for PS4 and Xbox One and will start on games for Switch. There are a lot of new concepts coming up, which we are working on currently, and we are convinced about the success of our strategy. We will definitely focus on the simulation genre but plan to develop and publish different games and different genres. The key for us is to keep an attractive price point, which makes our brands and games unique in the console market. 

GAME CEO talks Call of Duty, Red Dead Redemption 2, and the trailing triple-A pack

The shooter has impressed at retail and RDR 2 will be hugely instrumental to success in 2018

Although well aware of the need to diversify, UK games retail remains highly reliant upon the success of just a handful of the biggest franchises. And while last year's big releases let down retailers, things are looking a bit rosier in 2017. We asked GAME CEO Martyn Gibbs whether the publisher's have got it right this Christmas?

"In terms of Call of Duty, absolutely, the game has been well received, we're delighted with the market performance of the title, we think Activision has done a really good job," he replied, supporting retail sales across the UK that more than doubled this year.

However, some other big franchises haven't been quite as impactful, so we wanted to know whether the pack was trailing behind a little more this year.

"I think that's fair, he replied, adding: "It's nothing different from what we forecast, though. I think in terms of our forecast accuracy in terms of 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 tried to gauge the impact of next year's Red Dead Redemption 2, asking whether it was 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." Which means that its success will be most significant to GAME's results. Which just goes to show how much its delay has impacted on revenue for the back-end of 2017. 

You can read more from our interview with Gibbs commenting on Switch stock for Christmas.

EA doesn’t rule out big Star Wars Battlefront 2 changes in heated Reddit AMA

“Nothing is too late” team assures as the internet descends

EA’s somewhat bold Reddit AMA panned out much as you might expect, with the publisher not saying a huge amount in the face of extreme hostility among participants.

The move came after a recent EA statement in defence of the spiralling Star Wars Battlefront 2 loot box controversy became the most downvoted on Reddit ever. And while many of the answers the company offered in the AMA were variations of existing statements, Battlefront 2 associate design director Dannis Brannvall did offer a ray of hope for players.

“Nothing is too late,” he said in response to a question asking if the game could shift to a model of only handing out cosmetic items in purchasable loot crates, as seen in other titles like Overwatch.

“As you've noticed, we weren't able to get the customization system into the game in time for launch. I'm actually having artists and designers walk up to me today showing me cosmetic stuff they really want to get out there. I think we have probably the best looking Clone Troopers ever made and I know players really want to customize them (I know I do). I can't really commit to a date just yet, but we're working on stuff and I believe it will change the game tremendously on all levels.”

Other comments included assurances that the criticism “has come through loud and clear”, the argument that matchmaking will prevent players who have not paid to unlock items from facing off against those who have, sadness that the loot box controversy has meant the game has not reviewed as strongly as its other elements deserve and a commitment to ongoing dialogue.

Elsewhere, however, CNBC reports that concern about how the backlash might effect the game’s commercial performance has spread to Wall Street. And the sag has escalated so much that it’s even now getting mainstream coverage on the likes of the Mirror and BBC.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 is officially released tomorrow (November 17th).

HTC scraps one VR headset and announces another

Daydream device abandoned in favour of a new standalone Viveport model

The Google Daydream headset teased by HTC earlier this year is no more.

In a statement to TechCrunch, HTC said that: “We still have a great relationship with Google, but will not be bringing a standalone device to the western markets on Daydream.” The headset was to offer a wireless VR solution with no need for a smartphone or external hardware such as a PC or console.

However, the company has announced a brand new Vive-branded headset for the Chinese market. Called the Vive Focus, the self-contained unit houses an AMOLED screen and a Snapdragon 835 CPU. It looks similar in many ways to Oculus’ standalone Santa Cruz headset.

Crucially the Focus will offer inside-out tracking, meaning a user’s position can be accurately plotted without the need to install external cameras or sensors. The head mount is also very different from the existing Vive and is designed to address the issues of the weight being centred at the front of a user’s head.

Like the scrapped Daydream headset, it will not need to plug into a PC or attach to a smartphone. Software will be available only via HTC’s own Viveport portal. This does, however, mean its technical grunt will be limited.

Crucially it has also been made clear that a Western release is not currently on the cards.

From Google’s perspective, the HTC cancellation was almost immediately followed by the announcement of a new Daydream headset from Lenovo. It will be the third VR headset from the company this year following its Windows Mixed Reality device and its Star Wars AR headset launched in collaboration with Disney.

Nintendo to crack down on early selling

Platform holder vows to ensure release dates are correctly observed across Europe

Retailers across Europe face the possibility of receiving their Nintendo stock a lot later in the future.

Games Industry reports that retailers will in future be receiving their games far closer to the official launch date than they have previously. The platform holder merely confirmed that “it is 'consistently reviewing its shopping schedule' to ensure release dates across Europe are not broken”.

Receiving stock shortly before a game’s release presents an increased logistical challenge, and also means some retailers will face higher postage costs, as they will have to post via next day to ensure that customers receive the product on the day of release.

For smaller retailers, however, the loss of potential early sales could be crippling.

Early selling is exactly how it sounds – selling games to a buyer prior to their sanctioned day of release. Officially it is a practise that is frowned upon. Unofficially, for many indie retailers it is their bread and butter, and the main reason why many people buy from them instead of from cheaper High Street or online outlets.

Indeed, in days gone by it was reasonably common for the big High Street retailers to push out a game a day or two early “by mistake”, every now and then, to gain some headlines and a sales advantage. And there are of course countless example of checkout assistants unknowingly selling games found stashed under the counter ahead of their official release, too.

Those days may be behind us, but plenty of websites attract a decent buyer base due to their propensity to ship games out anything up to a week early. The justification is often that posting early is required to account for potential delivery hiccups that could leave a customer without their game on launch day.

The recent release of Super Mario Odyssey appears to have proved a tipping point, however, with lots of gamers proudly waving their early copies around on social media.

Kickstarter launches Patreon rival Drip

“Kickstarter is for projects, Drip is for people”

Crowdfunding giant Kickstarter has launched a new service designed to rival the likes of Patreon.

While Kickstarter can be used to crowdfund products and projects with a one-off payment from backers, Drip instead looks to provide creative individuals with an ongoing monthly payment. As the company phrases it: “Kickstarter is for projects, Drip is for people.”

Like Patreon, Drip creators will be able to offer exclusive content and rewards for their supporters. How it hopes to differ from Patreon, however, is in its ability to tap into Kickstarter’s large userbase. It can be quite hard to get a Patreon off the ground, but Drip can theoretically tap into the 13m+ Kickstarter community.

Drip creators will also be able to offers ‘founding membership’ for backers who sign up within the first week or month, a move designed to "replicate the urgency of Kickstarter's all-or-nothing mechanism".

Drip remains invite-only for the moment, although all signs point to it being opened up to everyone in early 2018. Early creators include Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian.

“Today we launch a new Drip for artists and creators across the full spectrum of disciplines we support on Kickstarter. Just as artists, authors, game designers, musicians, and filmmakers use Kickstarter to fund and build community around their projects, Drip is a tool for people to fund and build community around their ongoing creative practice,” the company said.

“In recent years, we’ve seen the growing validation of subscriptions for serial online content creators — podcasters, YouTubers, bloggers — using tools like Flattr, Patreon, and Steady. It's been great to see organizations build tools like these — the world is far from having too many tools for creators. But there remain large groups of artists and creators who don’t see subscriptions as fitting their creative practices. Our goal with the new Drip is to change that.

“A key mandate for the design of Drip has been creator independence. The work and relationships that creators build online should belong to them. They shouldn’t feel stuck to a platform because those things aren’t easy to move. With that in mind, creators will be able to export their data and content, and we’ll even help creators securely transfer subscription and payments information to other subscription platforms. We believe creator independence means not being locked into a platform by design.”

Disney is shutting down Marvel Heroes

The future of Gazillion Entertainment in doubt as server shut-off is confirmed for December 31st

The future of Gazillion Entertainment is in doubt after Disney confirmed the closure of Marvel Heroes and the termination of its partnership.

“We regret to inform our Marvel Heroes fans that we have ended our relationship with Gazillion Entertainment, and that the Marvel Heroes games will be shut down,” the company confirmed to Kotaku.

“We would like to sincerely thank the players who joined the Marvel Heroes community, and will provide any further updates as they become available.”

Apparently suspicions of unrest have been lingering among players for some time now. Gazillion failed to post its last four community updates without explanation, and both its Halloween event and Thor Ragnarok tie-in content remains MIA. There has also been no sign of the community managers on the game’s forum.

A source told Kotaku that several members of the game’s team were told not to come into the office this week, and there were apparently at least three rounds of layoffs during the game’s first year.

“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 reads.

“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.

“We are excited to partner with Gazillion to bring the first Marvel core MMO to the market,” Marvel’s EVP of operations and planning Rob Steffens said in 2012 prior to the game’s release. “With Marvel Heroes we are delivering great storytelling, intense action, and robust gameplay features  in a free-to-play MMO for core gamers and Marvel fans alike.”

GAME CEO: Nintendo Switch in ‘constant supply’ but we’re yet to hit Christmas peak

Will the Switch be a sell out this Christmas? Quite probably.

Speaking to MCV today, following on from GAME's full-year results, CEO Martyn Gibbs commented on the stock situation of Switch this Christmas, something that will have a direct impact on the bottom-line not only for many big publishers but also for the many indies that have flocked to the console's eShop digital store.

The console was undoubtedly limited in supply earlier in the year, but that has now ended with Gibbs commenting: "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 wouldn't share actual numbers, he continued: "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 [Distribution Centre] stuffed full of 100,000 units, but we do have a good, regular supply from Nintendo."

That still begged the question of whether it will still be on shelves in a few weeks time, to which Gibbs replied "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."

And will demand pick up? We wonder whether with Mario Odyssey's release we might have seen peak Switch demand already, but Gibbs doesn't agree.

"I'm not sure on that, it's probably going to be the number one 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 I think we're clear it's got great demand, the absolute peak of that demand I don't think we're anywhere near yet."

So 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 out do 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.

Tencent Q3 revenues hit $9.8bn

The world’s biggest games company posts its best growth numbers in seven years

The world’s biggest games company has smashed expectations for its Q3 2017.

Tencent reported revenues of $9.8bn, which is up 61 per cent year-on-year and almost as much as EA and Activision combined. Its profits for the period hit $2.7bn, up 69 per cent. This represents the company’s strongest growth numbers since 2010.

PC grew 27 per cent to $2.2bn and mobile 84 per cent to $2.75bn. The standout performer was mobile hit Honour of Kings, as well as League of Legends from Tencent’s Riot Games.

Its messaging app WeChat, meanwhile, now has 980m monthly active users and sends 38bn daily messages. Timeline advertising revenue for the service grew 48 per cent to $1.6bn, and it also helped grow associated services such as Tencent’s payment platform, which grew by 280 per cent. It now also lays claim to China’s most watched streaming video service.

“During the third quarter of 2017, we recorded strong business and revenue growth across multiple business lines including games, digital content, online advertising and payment related services. In particular, our video platform gained audience and revenue market share, we believe it has become China’s top online video platform in terms of mobile daily active users and subscriptions,” chairman and CEO Ma Huateng said.

“We believe this success reflects our increasing investment in self-commissioned video content, our improved selection of licensed video content, and our scheduling and audience management initiatives. The listing of our online literature platform, China Literature, in November also reflects the value of our years of investment in the business. We believe our multi-faceted digital content businesses are synergistic with each other, and allow us to deliver unique content to our users.”

Tencent this year acquired a 12 per cent share of SnapChat owner Snap and two of its businesses – eBook company China literature and the Sogou search engine – recently held IPOs. It has previously failed to acquire WhatsApp.

The company is increasingly looking to overseas investment opportunities in an effort to fend off any fear from investors that its grip on the Chinese markets is reaching saturation point. It is also looking into other tech, such as marketing AI and autonomous vehicles.

 

GameStop suspends PowerPass pre-owned program

Members are being asked to return their current game to receive a full refund and a free pre-owned game to keep

GameStop’s new pre-owned rental scheme has been abruptly paused and possibly abandoned altogether.

Kotaku reports that the chain yesterday told employees to take down all PowerPass signage. The scheme only launched last week. In a worrying sign for users, those who had already registered are being asked to return their current game to receive a full refund and a free pre-owned game to keep.

Sources speculated to the site that the company’s aging computer network being unable to handle the new system may be to blame for the move, though there is no way of knowing if this is accurate.

“We have elected to temporarily pause the roll out of the new PowerPass subscription service, based on a few program limitations we have identified. We feel this is the right thing to do for now to ensure we are able to provide our guests an exceptional service,” a GameStop spokesperson told Kotaku.

The PowerPass program offered a six-month membership program for $60. Once signed up, members could pick up games from the GameStop’s pre-owned library and play them for as long as they wanted.

There was no limit on how many games can be rented throughout the membership period, although users were restricted to having one game at a time. Furthermore, once the six months came to an end, members got to choose one game to keep for good.

Selections were limited to pre-owned titles found in a physical store and not those found in GameStop’s sizable online inventory, which potentially limited the selection a little.

Image credit: ResetEra

Sega announces Total War spin-off Thrones of Britannia

“Our aim with Total War Sagas is to explore key flashpoints at distinct places and times in history”

Total War’s new spin-off series now has a name.

It will go by the moniker ‘A Total War Saga’, and we already have confirmation of the first entry – Thrones of Britannia. The hook for the series is that it will focus on pivotal historic moments rather than more broadly looking at wider periods in history.

“The year is 878 AD, the embattled English king Alfred the Great has mounted a heroic defence at the battle of Edington, and blunted the Viking invasion. Chastened – but not yet broken – the Norse warlords have settled across Britain. For the first time in nearly 80 years, the land is in a fragile state of peace,” the game’s Steam description reads.

“Throughout this sceptred isle, the kings of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales sense a time of change approaching; a time of opportunity. There will be treaties. There will be war. There will be turns of fortune that become the stuff of legend, in a saga that charts the ascent of one of history’s greatest nations.

“Kings will rise. One will rule.”

The game currently has a vague 2018 release date and in confirmed only for PC.

“Our aim with Total War Sagas is to explore key flashpoints at distinct places and times in history,” series director Mike Simpson said. “Unlike our era-spanning titles, we’re putting defined geographical areas under the microscope, building super-detailed campaign maps with a strong cultural focus and flavour that players can dive into. This will complement our broader-scope titles perfectly.”

Here's the animated teaser trailer:

Super Mario Bros movie deal is close, report claims

Famed Nintendo designer and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto will apparently be the film’s producer

Nintendo may actually be nearing the point of striking a deal to see Mario return to the big screen.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the company is close to an agreement with Illumination Entertainment, which is the studio behind the Despicable Me and Minions series. Talks have apparently been ongoing for over a year.

Furthermore, famed Nintendo designer and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto will apparently be the film’s producer.

It’s worth noting that The Wall Street Journal was the original source of claims that Nintendo and Netflix were in the early stages of making a live-action Zelda series that was said to be described as “Game of Thrones for a family audience”. The proposed series would have apparently stayed loyal to the games and will see “ordinary boy” Link battling across Hyrule to save Princess Zelda.

Nintendo was reportedly closely associated with its production. However, late former Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata later said the story “was not based on correct information”.

Talk of movie licensing has been coming from Nintendo for some time, however. In 2015 Miyamoto said: “We've had, over the years, a number of people who have come to us and said ‘why don't we make a movie together – or we make a movie and you make a game and we'll release them at the same time?'

“As we look more broadly at what is Nintendo's role as an entertainment company, we're starting to think more and more about how movies can fit in with that—and we'll potentially be looking at things like movies in the future.”

Indeed, claims that Nintendo was in talks with Sony regarding a Mario film were later proved correct, when the Sony Pictures leaks of 2015 unearthed evidence of discussions involving films covering properties such as Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong and Pokemon.

More recently in 2016 current boss Tatsumi Kimishima said that he hoped to release a film in the next two to three years.

GAME posts £10m loss

Compared to a £1.1m profit in its previous year

Retailer GAME has reported a pre-tax loss of £10m for the year ending July 2017.

In contrast, in the previous year it posted a £1.1m profit. Revenue was down 3.6 per cent year-on-year at £782.9m, while gross profit fell 5.7 per cent to £205.1m.

As always, a “challenging” market was blamed for the results, as well as a perceived lack of big-hitting releases and disappointing sales from titles such as Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

The company’s share price has remained largely static following the news.

GAME says it retains the leading share in the core video games market, claiming 29 per cent of overall spend. It says that it continues to invest in its online and app presence, with performance over recent months improving. It also claims to have successfully negotiated additional support from suppliers, and has successfully renegotiated 39 leases for better terms and made £11.1m in operational efficiency savings across its UK stores.

It is also of once again growing focus on the concessions model, with a new Maplin partnership having kicked off in September.

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. Its BELONG program, which invites users to play competitive games with one another in store, is being expanded. It currently has one dedicated BELONG venue and 18 other in-store BELONG areas.

“Though our markets remained volatile last year, we made solid strategic progress as we continued to focus on those elements within our control; delivering on each of the four pillars of our strategy and creating a new cost base for our UK retail business,” CEO Martyn Gibbs said.

“After 2 years of declines, our core UK console market returned to growth in the second half of our financial year on the back of the launch of the Nintendo Switch. This growth has continued into our new financial year in both of our key territories.

“Whilst we remain mindful of the structural headwinds that remain in our core markets, we expect recent positive market dynamics to continue into our peak Christmas trading period, driven by strong growth in all elements of the PlayStation 4 category, continued customer demand for the Nintendo Switch, the launch of Microsoft's Xbox One X and continued stronger demand for related software.”

“Against this market backdrop, our priorities remain unchanged. Across the Group we are focused on maximising the opportunities from our core retail markets by delivering a compelling and constantly improving customer proposition, realising further operational efficiencies and driving the continued transformation of the business, as we transition our business from a leading retailer of boxed products to a leading provider of physical and digital gaming products, services and experiences.”

Gibbs later talked to MCV, commenting on the Switch stock situation for this Christmas.

Rime developer address Switch port complaints

Tequila Works outlines the technical compromises it had to make

Tequila Works has spoken out to explain some of the performance issues that plague the delayed Switch version of the game.

Complaints have included a perceptibly low resolution when played in portable mode, and frequent framerate drops.

“RiME runs at 30 FPS in 720p throughout most of the game while docked. This is a considerable improvement from where the game was at earlier this year when we announced the first delay,” the studio said in a Reddit AMA, as reported by Nintendo Everything.

“RiME uses a technique called streaming which allows us to have portions of the level loaded and unloaded in order to save on memory utilization. With RiME being very open in many locations, it’s incredibly difficult to get these level segments small enough to not cause a hiccup in performance.

“We were faced with the choice of adding loading screens throughout the stages, rebuilding the game completely to be more closed in (undermining the product vision in the process), or living with these small hiccups to preserve what the game was intended to be. We chose the latter.

“When looking at the handheld mode, we had to make a choice between lowering the resolution, removing/replacing major parts of the level geometry, or having a bigger hit in performance. We decided to go for the former, because it allows us to maintain the integrity of the gameplay experience. All the important details are still very visible, and we’ve had no issues playing the game in handheld mode ourselves.”

Rime is released for Switch in North America today (November 14th) and in the UK on November 17th.

The game will cost more on Switch than it does on other platforms – something that Tequila Works has blamed on the platform’s comparatively high manufacturing costs. The digital version has had its pricing reduced to achieve parity with other platforms.

Exclusive: Xbox One X outsells PS4 Pro in week one sales says GfK

Official rankings compare Xbox One X launch to previous launches

GfK has gone on the record to MCV to report on the success of the Xbox One X's week one sales in the UK. Dorian Bloch, business group director, at the market research company, told MCV exclusively that Xbox One X unit sales last week amounted to the 10th best UK console launch of all time, by comparison the PS4 Pro ranks 20th.

Xbox One as a category was boosted to its fourth biggest week to date, in unit terms. It was outdone by the week of the original console's launch and the 2014 and 2015's Black Friday events.

That piece of information shows that while Microsoft stated that pre-orders of the new console outstripped that of the original Xbox One console, the number of units it sold in the UK was less when launch day rolled around.

Rather than reflecting upon the success or popularity of the new One X hardware, it most likely shows that Microsoft was unable to get sufficient units of its new device onto shelves - or rather straight into consumer hands, as there was minimal, if any, stock available to buy that hadn't already been pre-ordered - as we reported previously. Whether that translates into an ongoing stock shortage as we move through the key Christmas season remains to be seen, but looks likely.

In terms of proportions, the Xbox One X accounted for 66 per cent of Xbox One console units sold that week, and 45 per cent of all home consoles. That compares favourably to 64 per cent and 37 per cent for the PS4 Pro's launch week.

In terms of revenue the One X was on a par with the launch of the Xbox 360, and below only the PS4, PS3 and Xbox One in the all-time rankings for week one revenue generation. With the latter two providing a better comparison as they also had over £400 average price points at launch.

Microsoft UK should be very happy with the success of the launch, likely stock shortages aside, in one of its key territories for the brand. It looks as though the One X's superior hardware and heavier marketing campaign has done the job required, which is not only moving the initial allocation but hopefully creating a desire for forthcoming shipments.

MOVING ON(E)

Elsewhere, Xbox boss Phil Spencer has already touched upon a future where new game releases could be Xbox One X specific.

"Developers want to reach the largest audience possible," he told The Telegraph. “At some point in the future are there pieces of hardware that become old enough that they fall out of the ecosystem? We see that today; we're not manufacturing Xbox 360 and yet there are 360 games that do very well right now on our platform.

"We'll talk more about this and frankly keep our ears open to what customers want and developers want. But our goal right now is to give them the highest performance in the broadest market they can.

“Three or four years ago if someone made an investment in an Xbox One, they bought that they bought their library of games, I want them to feel they get a full generational use out of their console, same with the Xbox One S. [But] at some point, we see this usage and other things can drop low enough where you kind of move on to things.”

Additional reporting by Ben Parfitt.

Microsoft’s Ben Payne is McLaren’s new esports director

“I’m looking forward to helping the McLaren brand grow and develop through its esports and gaming proposition”

Ben Payne has joined car company McLaren to help front its venture into the esports sector.

He assumes the role of director of esports. He comes from Microsoft where he worked in third party marketing and events for Xbox and global campaigns for Windows. He has previously worked at Sega, 2K Games and Future.

McLaren announced plans to become involved in esports earlier this year. It is currently running its World’s Fastest Gamer competition – a programme Payne will now run. He will also be responsible for new partnerships.

“I’m delighted to be joining McLaren as director of esports during the climax of this year’s prestigious World’s Fastest Gamer contest,” Payne said. “It’s undoubtedly an exciting time to be joining the organisation, and I’m looking forward to helping the McLaren brand grow and develop through its esports and gaming proposition.”

McLaren technology group director Zak Brown added: “Gaming and esports are two huge and exciting markets, and we believe that they’re essential elements of McLaren’s new marketing platform. The growth and appeal of gaming, and its close relationship to motorsport and Formula 1, makes this a natural area of expansion for us.”

Chief marketing officer John Allert continued: “We want to position McLaren as a market leader in this category. With World’s Fastest Gamer, we were the first Formula 1 team to create an esports property and now Ben’s appointment will accelerate the ambitious plans we have to grow this area of the business. We have already forged successful esports partnerships with Logitech G and Sparco, and we’re looking to develop a partner community around our gaming properties.”

IGN issues sexual assault statement after staff walkout

“It is with great sadness, pain, and regret that we tell you that IGN has failed two of its female employees”

Entertainment media network IGN has released a statement addressing the sexual harassment scandal that enveloped it over the weekend.

Kallie Plagge spoke up last week concerning allegations of sexual abuse against former editor Vince Ingenito. Her allegations were detailed on Twitter and in an interview with Kotaku.

Ingenito issued a statement in response where he said that he “doesn’t believe Kallie is a liar” but then also defended his position.

This all resulted in IGN’s Alanah Pearce yesterday announcing that the network’s daily news show Daily Fix would not be airing because of a walkout from staff demanding the company acknowledge and apologise for the way it treated Plagge, who was forced to sign a letter admitting to a lack of professionalism. She described her treatment at the hands of IGN’s HR as “traumatic”, moreso than the events with Ingenito.

IGN is also said to have expressed understanding with the walkout, and did eventually bow to the pressure to make a statement.

“It is with great sadness, pain, and regret that we tell you that IGN has failed two of its female employees, one former and one current – both of whom the team cares deeply about. We are devastated that two of our own have had to live with and carry this pain for more than a year,” a statement credited simply to ‘the IGN team’ read.

“When the women made management and human resources aware of the situation involving a now-former employee, those women, in the estimation of the IGN team, did not get the respect and care that they deserved as IGN employees and as people. That system, plainly put, failed them. It especially failed them but it also failed all of us.

“Any future allegations will be taken extremely seriously, and we are actively working to ensure that everyone on our team feels like they work in a safe environment; we will not tolerate the exclusion or mistreatment of any people. The human resources representative who oversaw this situation originally is no longer with the company, and our current HR rep has been transparent and willing to listen to ideas and suggestions for how to create a better work environment going forward.

“We are aware of the influence that IGN has in the gaming and entertainment community, and we will utilize that to the best of our abilities going forward. And we will continue to challenge our management and human resources teams to fix what is broken, because if we can’t or if we don’t, then IGN will no longer be a place we’re proud to call home – as content creators, entertainment consumers, and as gamers.”

EA makes changes after Star Wars Battlefront II outcry

Cuts the price of heroes by 75%

Publisher EA is trying to remedy the huge fan unrest that has force choked Star Wars Battlefront II.

The company has announced a 75 per cent price cut to the cost of unlocking heroes. It has also vowed to keep making changes until people are happy – although the presence of a loot box system of any kind may prevent that.

EA’s somewhat bold reaction on Reddit yesterday earned it the title of the most downvoted comment in the site’s history. The company has now thanked that particular community for its passion.

“There’s been a lot of discussion around the amount of in-game credits (and time) it takes to unlock some of our heroes, especially Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader,” a statement explained. “Unlocking a hero is a great accomplishment in the game, something we want players to have fun earning. We used data from the beta to help set those levels, but it’s clear that more changes were needed.

“Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader will now be available for 15,000 credits; Emperor Palpatine, Chewbacca, and Leia Organa for 10,000 credits; and Iden at 5,000 credits. Based on what we’ve seen in the trial, this amount will make earning these heroes an achievement, but one that will be accessible for all players.

“We know some of our most passionate fans, including those in our subreddit, have voiced their opinions, and we hear you. We’re making the changes to the credit levels for unlocking heroes and we’re going to keep making changes to improve the game experience over time. We welcome the conversation.”

The company will also brave the waters of a Reddit AMA tomorrow (Wednesday 15th).

 

Enter the MCV Awards 2018!

This year, in consultation with the industry, we've redesigned the categories, criteria, entry process and judging process

It's that time of year again. Yes, we know that your biggest releases are only just out the door, if that, but it's time to start thinking about the 16th MCV Awards, to take place in early March next year. 

The video games industry in the UK remains one of the most exciting and innovative markets in the world. And the MCV Awards are the UK’s only industry awards that recognise games publishing, retail, distribution, marketing, PR, events and media – all of which are essential to putting a huge range of brilliant products into the hands (or onto the hard drives) of consumers

Our 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. The awards are presented at a stylish ceremony with over 600 of the industry’s leading figures in attendance, to 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.

Call of Duty: WWII knocks Mario Odyssey off the top of the Japanese charts

.hack//G.U. Last Recode and New Style Boutique 3 both enter Top 10

Activision’s Call of Duty: World War 2 (which is published by Sony on PS4 in Japan) has claimed the top spot in the Japanese charts.

In doing so it knocks Nintendo’s Switch platformer, Super Mario Odyssey, from the top spot. Famitsu credits COD’s strong sell-though (89 per cent), and notes that the game had a far stronger week one that predecessor Infinite Warfare, bettering the numbers by about 70 per cent. However, the total fell ever so slightly short of Black Ops III.

COD managed only about a third of the sales Mario Odyssey posted on its first week, however.

Mario did manage to fend off the advances of two newcomers, however – Bandai Namco’s remake compilation .hack// GU Last Recode debuts in 3rd and Nintendo’s 3DS title New Style Boutique 3: Styling Star in 4th.

Retailers have told Famitsu that .hack sales would have been higher if more stock had been available, and that the 3DS title has performed better than expected. Some also expressed pleasant surprise by the success of COD, which has done well with non-pre-order customers.

This all sees PS4 surge back ahead of Switch in the weekly unit sales race, and also sees it take the lead in terms of the previous four weeks. For the year to date, PS4 claims around 33.5 per cent of the software market and the Switch 25.3 per cent. The 3DS beats them both, however, with 33.6 per cent.

The Switch remained the week’s best-selling console, however, and also leads both the trailing for weeks and year-to-date charts.

Here’s the Japanese Top 10 for the week ending November 5th:

1. (PS4) Call of Duty: WWII - Sony
2. (Switch) Super Mario Odyssey - Nintendo
3. (PS4) .hack//G.U. Last Recode - BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment
4. (3DS) New Style Boutique 3: Styling Star - Nintendo
5. (PS4) ARK: Survival Evolved - Spike Chunsoft
6. (Switch) Splatoon 2 - Nintendo
7. (PS4) Assassin's Creed Origins - Ubisoft
8. (Switch) Mario Kart 8 Deluxe - Nintendo
9. (3DS) Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux - ATLUS
10. (Switch) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Nintendo

EA response to Star Wars Battlefront II controversy becomes the most downvoted in Reddit history

“The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes”

The Star Wars Battlefront II loot box controversy is just not going away for EA.

Despite having already once revised the game’s loot box system, the vocal internet masses remain outraged. So much so, in fact, that a response from EA on Reddit defending its design has become the most downvoted post on Reddit ever, currently sitting at a whopping 153k downvotes – PCGamesN reckons the previous record holder had only 24.2k downvotes.

The number is rapidly climbing, too.

“The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes,” EA said in justification for the high price of unlocking heroes such as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

“As for cost, we selected initial values based upon data from the Open Beta and other adjustments made to milestone rewards before launch. Among other things, we're looking at average per-player credit earn rates on a daily basis, and we'll be making constant adjustments to ensure that players have challenges that are compelling, rewarding, and of course attainable via gameplay.

“We appreciate the candid feedback, and the passion the community has put forth around the current topics here on Reddit, our forums and across numerous social media outlets.

Our team will continue to make changes and monitor community feedback and update everyone as soon and as often as we can.”

As you can imagine, the responses have been ‘colourful’.

How much of an impact this online backlash will have on actual sales of the game will be fascinating to see. There was once a time in the industry where publishers felt largely free to ignore online anger mobs, believing they represent a loud but still very minor fraction of the potential playerbase. We’ll get a better idea of whether that sentiment still holds true when the game launches worldwide this Friday (November 17th).

Now Warface is getting a Battle Royale mode

“The game mode will be available in the next update, only for a limited time”

The race to integrate 2017’s hottest game mode into every online title under the sun is on.

Crytek’s Warface is following in the footsteps of Epic’s Fortnite by adding a battle royale mode to the free-to-play shooter in its next update. In an even bolder act of brinkmanship, the map shown off is a desert level, just like the much anticipated next map on the way to the game behind the entire craze, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

Warface's take on it all will follow a lot of the same design prompts, including scavenging for weapons and equipment and an ever-decreasing game area. It’s quite a departure for a game that has traditional focused on tight small-scale cooperative PVE and PvP. And this is one area in which the game does seem to deviate – it would appear that it’s limited to 16 players per game (a far cry from PUBG’s 100), although we will have to wait and see if that number applies at launch.

Furthermore, it looks as if the addition may only be temporary, although it could lay the foundations for a permanent rollout.

“Soldier, this is by far the toughest challenge of the year — the new game mode will require you to be always on the ready, it’s Battle Royale. The game mode will be available in the next update, only for a limited time,” the studio said.

“Warface has a broad variety of game modes available — some are more conservative and classic, suited to the 5-on-5 scenarios, whilst some others are more dynamic and perhaps even, arcade. With Battle Royale, we wanted to create something on the thin verge between the two, and here you have it: quick-paced combat with an element of the unknown — you never know which gun you’re going to get, with action taking place on the largest PvP map ever seen in the game.”

Bandai Namco: We want more IPs to ‘double the size of our business’

Fresh off the success of Little Nightmares and a brand-new partnership with Life is Strange studio Dontnod, Bandai Namco is now putting European games at the core of its publishing strategy. We sit down with European VP of marketing and digital Hervé Hoerdt to find out how these titles will help double the size of the company and make Bandai Namco a global powerhouse

This August, MCV revealed that publisher Bandai Namco had struck up a new strategic partnership with Life is Strange studio Dontnod. Details about the game are still thin on the ground, but we do know it will be a brand-new IP focused on a new kind of narrative adventure set in a fictional US town.

Of course, given Bandai Namco’s recent release schedule, the news shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. In this year alone, the firm has published the likes of Tarsier Studios’ Little Nightmares, The Farm 51’s Get Even, Mojo Bones’ Impact Winter and Slightly Mad Studios’ Project CARS 2, to name just a few of its European-led titles. 

Its partnership with Dontnod, however, represents the next stage of its diversification strategy, so we sat down with Bandai Namco’s European VP of marketing and digital Hervé Hoerdt to find out more about how these titles will transform the publisher into a more global company and why its ultimate goal is to end up “somewhere between Nintendo and Disney.”

GAME PLAN

It all began in 2014, Hoerdt tells MCV. 

“Our strategy in Europe isn’t new,” he says. “We’ve been working on this for the last three years, but it’s only now starting to become visible. The first part of this was Little Nightmares, which we’ve been incredibly happy with, but it’s just the start. Now we’re very happy to partner with Dontnod.”

Naturally, Hoerdt’s ambitions for Bandai Namco’s European programme are high, as he wants titles like Little Nightmares to form 50 per cent of its publishing output going forward.  

“We’re a Japanese-centric company and most of our content right now is coming from Japan,” he continues. “We know that, as great as this content is, we’ve been targeting the same audience for years, so we want to double the size of our business, and we’re going to do it through more platforms, more localisation and more IPs.

“Japanese companies mostly develop on Nintendo and PlayStation [platforms], but more and more we have the Xbox, especially for the UK market, and PC. We also want our fans to enjoy localised games, so we’re doing more games in languages like Polish, Russian and Arabic.

“Last but not least, it’s about the IPs. We think about the big anime IPs like One Piece, Naruto and Dragonball, but our Japanese content is only addressing a limited part of the market segment. We’ve also been working with studios in Europe and we’ve been going back to Japan saying, ‘Okay, these are the hottest ones and we’ll bring these new IPs to market over the next five years’. That’s a pillar of our company, and we’re going to use it to double our business.”

Pictured above: Tarsier Studios’ Little Nightmares was the first step in Bandai Namco’s European strategy

To achieve this, Bandai Namco has been busy developing long-term partnerships with a handful of key studios, creating “a broad ecosystem” with the potential for “several iterations,” Hoerdt explains. 

“This might be one or two games, or one title as a game-as-a-service, but also – and I think this is more important as an entertainment company – to put it beyond video games and look at it in 360-degrees,” he says. “This means things like comics, toys, plush, board games, movies, series and so on. We’ve already been talking to Hollywood studios at E3 for some IPs, so this is the kind of vision we have.”

Bandai Namco is still being cautious about how it develops its European portfolio though, as Hoerdt says it’s very much looking for quality over quantity. Indeed, the publisher is aiming for just three to five narrative adventure IPs like Little Nightmares over the next five years.

"We’ve already been talking to Hollywood studios at E3 for some IPs."

Hervé Hoerdt, Bandai Namco

“You can’t market ten IPs,” Hoerdt laughs. “Usually, when you run a new IP, you’re not making any profit. Most barely break even, so you create a new universe and then it becomes understood and starts making a profit, allowing you to reinvest in that content. You also can’t do one-shots if you want to take a 360-degree approach.

“Our competitors are now doing fewer, bigger titles, which I understand from a PR perspective, but from a consumer perspective, video games have to be diverse, so we’ll be somewhere in the middle. Ideally, we’d have two or three big titles in various ranges and genres appealing to various audiences in our top tier, and then in tier two, you can have three to five Little Nightmares-type games, for instance. In this portfolio content strategy, we want to bring a cluster of IPs that work well together, so Little Nightmares is there, Get Even is there, and the one we’re working on with Dontnod sits in another direction.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time a Japanese publisher has branched out to court western developers, and Hoerdt points to the efforts of Square Enix as a source of inspiration.

“We’ve been a Japanese company, there’s no doubt about that,” he says. “But the shift we want to make is to move from a Japanese-centric company to a more global company with a Japanese DNA. I think Square Enix, for example, has actually done this quite well through its mergers and acquisitions, and as a competitor, I kind of admire the way they’ve balanced their portfolio. If we could achieve something in that direction, with our own DNA, I’d say we’d sit somewhere between Nintendo and Disney. We’re really proud and excited to work on this as a company.”

EVERY LITTLE HELPS

Hoerdt has reason to be excited, too, as April’s release of Little Nightmares was the first sign that its European strategy was starting to bear fruit. It’s been such a hit, in fact, that Hoerdt predicts it might even be considered a ‘top tier’ title one day if the game continues to grow at its current pace.

“Recently, we reached the milestone of half a million units for Little Nightmares, which is good,” Hoerdt enthuses. “If you compare it to our benchmark, EA’s Unravel, they had a different strategy where they went for the digital-only road, whereas because we have this unique strength to have all territories everywhere, we went for the digital plus boxed road. If we look at digital-only sales, we are below Unravel, but if you combine this with the boxed sales at retail, we are far above, so that’s part of the success.

“Another part of its success is the fan feedback that we’ve received, and the user-generated content, such as the papercraft and the community activities. It’s only the start of it. So, yes, Little Nightmares is obviously one of the franchises we discussed with our Hollywood partners, so in that sense, it’s been successful. From a purely financial view, I don’t think we made a super amount of money, but in the end, we have half a million fans as of today, and it will definitely go above one million as we manage the life cycle. Think about it –
one million people are happily entertained – that’s our reason to be.”

Pictured above: Little Nightmares sold 500k units and “will definitely go above one million as [Bandai Namco] manages the life cycle,” Hoerdt says

Tarsier Studios’ upcoming programme of DLC for Little Nightmares, the second chapter of which is due for release imminently, should certainly help in this respect. But Hoerdt points out there’s still more work to be done when it comes to raising the game’s profile overseas.

“Little Nightmares and the rest of our European portfolio are definitely more popular in Europe, but still, it’s a good start,” he says. “To enter those markets, you either have to have a big IP like Call of Duty, or you need to start from scratch like we’ve been doing. Our Japanese colleagues were very happy with Project CARS, Get Even and specifically Little Nightmares.

“For instance, Little Nightmares has sold over 20,000 units in Japan, more than 10,000 units of Project CARS, and they’re really interested in the new IPs we presented to them at the end of July that I can’t talk about yet.”

Of course, not all of Bandai Namco’s European titles have seen the same success as Little Nightmares. Get Even, for instance, failed to generate the same kind of response, and Hoerdt admits it was “difficult in many respects.”

"Little Nightmares [is] definitely more popular in Europe. To enter those markets, you either have to have a big IP like Call of Duty, or you need to start from scratch like we’ve been doing."

Hervé Hoerdt, Bandai Namco

“First of all, we decided to postpone the game because of the [Manchester bombing] in the UK,” he explains. “I don’t know how much that impacted the sales, but it’s true we had a campaign targeted around May 23rd and we had to postpone everything last minute. We thought that, as much as we’re here to entertain, it wasn’t the right moment to bring this game to market, so this may have affected some of the sales.

“I cannot say the sales are super exciting,” he continues. “But I can’t say they’re a big disappointment either. It sits somewhere in the middle. Farm 51 did a huge job, so they deserve that we do our best, and we did do our best, but overall it was average – average, but in exceptional circumstances.

“Again, we want to do more and reward the studio that has made such a brave choice. It’s easy to enter the market with something that has a recipe that’s easy to sell, but I think our obligation is beyond that – it’s about bringing added value. In that sense, Get Even is really unique.”

GIVING THE NOD

Speaking more specifically about its partnership with Dontnod, Hoerdt tells us the studio is very much one of the “rising stars” of the industry. 

“Dontnod was a kind of rough diamond,” he says. “With the success of Life is Strange, it’s the first big player in terms of its quality, business model and vision, and we think it’s a good strategy that fits. It was the right moment, so we decided to partner with them.”

Indeed, Hoerdt sees no reason why the partnership couldn’t lead to further collaboration between the two companies in the future if the relationship proves productive.

“When you’re building a new franchise, a new partnership usually takes around two years, even thirty months, to go to market,” he says. “We’ve been working with Dontnod on this project for around 12-18 months, but it takes time. We’ll focus on this and do everything we can to make it successful, and if it is successful, I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t generate a wider partnership. It’s far too early to foresee, but I would love to. For me, it’s a really good studio.”

Pictured above: Bandai Namco's new IP, developed by Dontnod, will be a narrative adventure set in a fictional US town

We’ll have to wait until next year before we find out more details about the game – including its name, platforms and release date – but Hoerdt was keen to elaborate on the importance of its US setting. 

“In order to establish a new brand with a western audience, we think locating the game in a fictional place in the US helps to win over the US partners. Part of this choice comes from having this global, worldwide audience in mind. 

“We’re still working on things like story and the characters, but with a studio like Dontnod, you can expect triple-A quality,” he continues. “You can expect very emotional experiences and this is what we’re looking for, with some kind of investigation and going deep into the psychology of the characters, and giving emotion to the player. This is what we’re aiming for with this partnership.”

CONTINENTAL DRIFT

With its eyes set firmly on the west, Bandai Namco looks to be well on its way to achieving its goal of global diversification. While some of its European titles have proven more popular than others over the past six months, partnering with up and coming studios like Dontnod shows there’s still plenty more to come – especially if its new game can replicate even a fraction of the success of its three million sales smash, Life is Strange. 

What’s more, it will be Bandai Namco’s European division leading the charge, as Hoerdt concludes our chat by telling us that Bandai Namco Europe now sits at the heart of the company’s future business plans. 

“I see more opportunities than ever,” he says. “We are building Bandai Namco Europe as the lead company in the group when it comes to creative innovation. Two years ago, we started an innovation process with a small team of around 15 people, and we will extend this to all employees very soon, where we can talk about business opportunities beyond video games.

“We’re in the entertainment business – we’re even contemplating pet entertainment, as crazy as it seems – so there are many projects in the pipeline. If tomorrow there are 200 million coffee machines that are able to provide an experience, we’ll go for that.

“We see untapped markets everywhere, and even from the simplest business perspective, you want to find something new. We have the legacy, the creativity and the DNA to achieve that.”

Sledgehammer apologises for Call of Duty: WWII server struggles

Says its hopes to return to dedicated servers soon

Call of Duty: WWII developer Sledgehammer has told fans that it intends to return to a dedicated server structure for the game at some point in the future.

Following the introduction of an update last week that caused some online issues, Sledgehammer shifted the game off its dedicated servers and to a P2P setup (where gamers connect straight to one another, as opposed to all communicating with a separate server). This solved many of the problems, although introduced the complications typically associated with P2P.

All of which is a bit of a departure for a series that has, in spite of consistently huge launch numbers, got a pretty good track record when it comes to server stability at release.

Nonetheless, Sledgehammer has now told fans that the move is only temporary, and that it hopes to get the game’s dedicated servers back up and running soon – and indeed already has done in some areas.

“It’s been a whirlwind since launch. We’re seeing millions of fans play every day. However, we also know we’ve had issues, there’s frustration.  We recognize that and we hear you,” a statement said.

“Overall, the game is stable, however we know that P2P brings things like Host Migrations and other issues that make for inconsistent gameplay experiences. Our objective to return to dedicated servers is our highest priority… We’ve begun to test dedicated servers today in the US. We’ll watch this test closely, and once we analyse the results we’ll look to expand.”

The developer also confirmed that the game’s social hub, Headquarters, is still not working correctly, and has for the time being been turned into a solo experience. There’s not yet an ETA on that fix. It has, however, gotten to the root of the server disconnect problems, and a fix should be going live very shortly, if it is not already.

Depsite the problems sales look to be unaffected, with CoD: WWII remaining at top of the charts for a second week, with strong figures.

Call of Duty: WWII is still No.1 as three new titles enter Top Ten

Sega duo Sonic Forces and Football Manager 2018, as well as EA’s new Need for Speed, arrive at retail

There’s no budging Activision’s Call of Duty: WWII from the top of the charts this week.

Not only has the FPS clung onto its debut position, but it also posts the best week two sales for any game in the UK charts this year, beating previous record holder FIFA 18 – which, incidentally, climbs one place to 2nd after matching its previous week’s sales.

Assassin’s Creed Origins slips one place for the second week in a row to 3rd ahead of EA debutant Need for Speed Payback, which enters the charts in 4th – one place lower than the last entry in the series Need for Speed back in 2015.

Sega claims both other Top 10 new entries with Sonic Forces claiming 5th and Football Manager 2018 10th, despite what would undoubtedly have been a very heavy lean toward digital sales for the PC exclusive.

Super Mario Odyssey slips two places, as it has done every week since its release, to claim 6th. Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport 7 and Forza Horizon 3 sit together in 7th and 8th respectively, followed by Sony’s Gran Turismo: Sport in 9th.

There are two new entries elsewhere in the Top 40 – Microsoft’s Super Lucky’s Tale in 23rd and The Sims 4: Cats & Dogs in 27th.

Here’s the UK Top 10 in full for the week ending November 11th:

  1. Call of Duty: WWII (Activision)
  2. FIFA 18 (EA)
  3. Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft)
  4. Need for Speed Payback (EA)
  5. Sonic Forces (Sega)
  6. Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo)
  7. Forza Motorsport 7 (Microsoft)
  8. Forza Horizon 3 (Microsoft)
  9. Gran Turismo: Sport (Sony)
  10. Football Manager 2018 (Sega)

Bluehole reveals new MMORPG Ascent: Infinite Realm

Kakao, which has also invested in the studio, assumes Western publishing duties

The maker of 2017 smash hit PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has revealed its new title.

It’s called Ascent: Infinite Realm, and bears no resemblance at all to its battle royale hit. Black Desert Online publisher Kakao Games has been named as its Western publisher, and has also invested in the studio.

Vehicles and mounts are central to the steampunk-themed action, and will form the core of the game’s PvP mode.

“I am thrilled to be working with Bluehole, one of the best blockbuster PC online game developers in the industry,” Kakao CEO Kye-Hyun Cho said. “I see this event not only as a major cornerstone in our global expansion, but as an opportunity for both parties to grow.”

Bluehole CEO Gang-Seok Kim added: “What has deeply resonated with me was the strong will of Kakao Games to take the lead in the global market by discovering and securing competent titles.”

A:IR is scheduled to launch in beta in first half of 2018. A new trailer will give you an idea of what it’s all about:

Many tend to think of Bluehole as a new studio, thanks to the fact that the name was a virtual unknown in the West prior to PUBG. In fact, the developer already has a couple of other games under its belt – MMORPG pair Tera (which has 26m registered players) and Devilian. Bluehole will certainly be hoping its success with PUBG can propel its next title to new global heights.

EA discusses how to move beyond FIFA and Madden’s annual release model

“We can really think about those games as a 365-day, live service”

In the world of games-as-a-service, sports titles seem like the ideal candidates for experimenting with new models that don’t rely on the traditional release structure.

We already have a few examples of games that build from a base release, such as Hearthstone and League of Legends. We’re unlikely to ever see a Hearthstone 2 or League of Legends 2, because the games themselves exist in a non-static form. They constantly evolve, with new characters and mechanics added through live updates.

With games such as FIFA and Madden becoming so reliant on their online modes, and the importance of annual gameplay changes decreasing, many have pondered when a company such as EA might try and shift their sports titles over to a similar model. Indeed, EA has done exactly that with its mobile iterations of the series, but the console games remain rooted in the established console annual release model.

“There’s a world where it gets easier and easier to move that code around -- where we may not have to do an annual release,” EA CEO Andrew Wilson told Bloomberg. “We can really think about those games as a 365-day, live service.

"There's a few different things that have got to happen first. We do a lot in a FIFA game every year [and] there's a lot of code that we make available as part of a new iteration. When we look at what we do in Korea or China, we don't do it that way… What we see in Korea and China, what we see on mobile – I think there's a world where that will happen in other parts of our business."

EA is already one of the few companies to offer a subscription service, with EA Access on Xbox One and Origin Access on PC. The evolution required to add per-game subscriptions feels ever-more plausible. However, until that method is able to replicate the revenues generated by a yearly £50 game, we’re unlikely to see any significant changes.

Final pricing for Star Wars Battlefront 2 loot crates confirmed

As clumsy or as random as a blaster, or a more elegant weapon for a more civilized age?

A trial version of Star Wars Battlefront 2 is out now for EA Access and Origin Access, bringing with it confirmation of exactly what model EA has chosen for its controversial loot crate system.

The game’s currency, Crystals, can be bought in the following volumes: 500 (£3.99), 1,000 (£7.99), 2,100 (£15.99), 4,400 (£31.99) or 120,000 (£79.99).

Once acquired, Crystals can buy you assorted types of loot box – Hero (110), Starfighter (120) and Trooper (200 Crystals). These loot crates themselves can then contain an assortment of cards. Blue-Tier cards offer the best rewards followed by Green Tier and Grey Tier. Boxes can also be bought with credits earned in-game.

Card types are only craftable when you’re reached a specific level and hold a certain number of cards. The highest Purple Tier cards can now only be crafted, after they were removed from the crates by EA following the open beta.

YouTuber XfactorGaming opened $90 worth of crates and received seven Blue Tiers, 48 Green Tiers lots of lots of Grey Tiers.

The conclusion? You can pay for cards from the word go and be at an advantage. At the same time, the upgrades are limited. Once you reach the upgrade ceiling, there’s no going beyond it. And as playing the game does dish out rewards in time, it could be argued that paying players are simply accelerating their development. In other words, they’re paying to save on time.

Nonetheless, this is still all a far cry from the cosmetic upgrades seen in games like Overwatch. It may not be pay-to-win in the most literal sense, but it certainly feels like pay-to-win-much-earlier at the very least.

The cost of developing a triple-A game has risen significantly in the last few years, while the price of video games has remained static for virtually two decades. These additional costs were at one stage recouped via Season Passes, but now that model has passed, microtransactions have become the go to.

Discord adds game-joining functionality

Available with Call of Duty: WWII, Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Payday 2 and a handful of others

Growing comms platform Discord now lets its users join games with their friends more easily.

Discord already shows you want games your friends are currently playing. Now a new feature called Rich Presence adds a button that, when pressed, will allow you to either boot the game and join in or spectate their gameplay.

It will also allow groups to party up in Discord and then jointly launch the app.

Compatibility is currently determined on a title-by-title basis, with Call of Duty: WWII, Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Payday 2 leading the charge. Other compatible titles include Duelyst, SpeedRunners, Battlerite, Move or Die, Brawlhalla, Foxhole, Holodrive, Unturned and Tooth & Tail.

Developers are able to add compatibility using Discord’s SDK. They can also choose to have Discord monitor and offer up game data.

“Rich Presence removes the friction PC gamers often feel when joining game sessions with their friends,” Discord CEO Jason Citron said. “It gives players a clear at-a-glance understanding of what their friends are playing, how they are playing it, where they are at in the game, and a one click way to jump in and join.

“For developers, this becomes a valuable way to help super-fans engage more deeply with other players in their games and get the word out in their game communities.”

Discord is a hugely popular text and voice chat app and has become the standard for gamers looking to voice comm in-game. It currently boasts around 45m users.

Activision Blizzard, Bandai Namco, EA and Xbox One X headline this week’s MCV

Also featuring interviews with NIS America & Nihon Falcom, Sony DADC, UIG, and much more

In this issue, we talk to Bandai Namco’s European VP of marketing and digital about his strategy for the old continent. Fresh off the success of Little Nightmares and a brand-new partnership with Dontnod, the publisher is now putting European games at the forefront, with the aim to become a global powerhouse and end up “somewhere between Nintendo and Disney.”

We also talk to Activision Blizzard’s consumer products group CEO Tim Kilpin about the unique strength of the company’s franchises and the new division’s ambitious plans for them, including the Call of Duty movie and Overwatch’s esports expansion.

Elsewhere, EA’s country manager for UK and Ireland Shaun Campbell tells us about the wider issues challenging the UK games industry, from Brexit to loot crates.

We also take a closer look at the Xbox One X’s launch, and wonder: in the ‘engagement’ era, is Microsoft’s new console just what the industry ordered?

Meanwhile in Japan, the 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? We discuss the issue with NIS’ Takuro Yamashita and Falcom’s Toshihiro Kondo.

The latest digital edition can be read here for free

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

  • OPINION: Exient’s product lead Dan Bergin-Holly discusses the controversy on microtransactions in multiplayer games
  • OPINION: Escape Studios’ head of games Simon Fenton on how to bring gaming into schools
  • BANDAI NAMCO: Doubling down on Europe – how Bandai Namco is putting European games at the core of its publishing strategy
  • ACTIVISION BLIZZARD: We talk to Activision Blizzard about the almost limitless opportunities to build franchises around its biggest titles
  • EA TALKS EU: We talk to EA about the wider issues challenging the UK games industry
  • XBOX ONE X: In the ‘engagement’ era, is the Xbox One X what the industry ordered?
  • SAVING THE JRPG: NIS America and Nihon Falcom presidents discuss the Japanese market and how games firms in the country need to “look outward” to keep growing
  • SONY DADC: 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
  • UIG: Stefan Berger, head of business development at UIG, tells MCV about the state of the simulation genre, the company’s shift to consoles and its distribution partnership with publisher Toplitz
  • PLUS! FIFA 18 tops the October monthly charts, L.A. Noire and Star Wars Battlefront II headline the big game releases of the week, and more

EA acquires Titanfall developer Respawn

Deal worth $455; studio working on a new Titanfall, a Star Wars title and a VR release

Developer Respawn Entertainment has been acquired by publishing partner EA.

Respawn was formed out of the ashes of Activision’s high-profile bust-up with former Call of Duty creators Infinity Ward. Founders Jason West and Vince Zampella left the studio in the wake of the turbulence, forming Respawn and signing a publishing deal Activision rival EA.

After the huge success of the first Titanfall, which controversially was an Xbox console exclusive, Titanfall 2 released last year to tremendous critical acclaim, but little in the way of sales.

EA has now acquired the studio for $455m (providing Respawn hits its targets). It is said to have multiple titles in development including a new Titanfall, a Star Wars title and a VR release.

“We’ve seen firsthand the world-class caliber of Respawn as a development studio with incredible vision, deep talent and an inspiring creative mindset,” EA CEO Andrew Wilson said.

“Our longtime partnership is grounded in a shared desire to push the boundaries and deliver extraordinary and innovative new experiences for players around the world. Together, we’ve brought this to life in the Titanfall franchise, and now with the Respawn team joining EA, we have exciting plans to accomplish even more amazing things in the future.”

Zampella added: “We started Respawn with the goal to create a studio with some of the best talent in the industry, and to be a top developer of innovative games. We felt that now was the time to join an industry leader that brings the resources and support we need for long term success, while still keeping our culture and creative freedom. EA has been a great partner over the years with Titanfall and Titanfall 2, and we’re excited to combine our strengths. This is a great next step for Respawn, EA, and our players.”

Activision Blizzard positive about possible Overwatch Movie

Ex-Disney executive wants Overwatch be the basis of a multi-format franchise

The idea of an Overwatch movie is a mouthwatering one. Blizzard's series of animated shorts has shown that over and over again. But for the first time, someone who actually works at the publisher has shown his support for the idea.

Speaking to MCV, Tim Kilpin said “We would like that very much.” When asked whether an Overwatch movie was a possible next step after the upcoming Call of Duty film.

And Kilpin is certainly a man whose opinion counts. This year he was brought in to head-up the company's new Consumer Products Group, which is tasked with taking the company's biggest brands and turning them into Disney-like franchises, which can profit across a huge range of media formats and product lines.

And Disney-like is more than just a namecheck, as Kilpin used to head-up franchise management for Disney itself, which included making Pixar's movies so profitable. And that brings us right back round to an animated Overwatch movie.

The appeal is obvious. The characters are brilliant, the best of them have already been brought to life with a Pixar-like level of care and character design. It's undoubtedly an embarrassment of riches for any scriptwriter to make a start with.

Then there's the huge international appeal of the brand. Hollywood is increasingly hooked on the additional income from the Chinese box office (it's what saved World of Warcraft and many others in recent years), and with a notably global look to the roster, there's really something for everyone here in terms of casting.

"It's not just the game as a driver, it's linear content [movies and TV] as a way to expand the audience and expand the opportunity..."

Tim Kilpin, Activision Blizzard

But while box office makes the headlines, the real driver of Disney and Pixar's huge success are the waves of consumer product that follow each movie, it's these that allow the company to continue to invest so confidently in its core offering - something that Kilpin knows better than anyone else on the planet.

"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 [movies and TV] 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."

Speaking specifically on the Call of Duty movie Kilpin admitted that taking a brand to a new medium was always going to be a risk:

“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.”

Of course none of this is going to happen tomorrow. But then that gives us all some idea of just how long term Activision's view is of current franchise line-up. The only possible thing holding the Overwatch franchise back is all those guns which, despite their cartoon-like renderings, won't play with a younger demographic (or rather their parents).

Want to read the rest of our interview with Tim Kilpin, with plenty more on the company's plans for both Overwatch and Call of Duty, then head over to this week's digital edition.

The video game voice actor strike is over

Agreement made to end dispute that has rumbled on for almost a year

After nearly a year, voice actors in the SAG-AFTRA have ratified an agreement to end a dispute that had forced many of gaming’s most recognisable voices to stay away from the sector.

90 per cent of those who voted agreed to the deal, which grants actors a bonus of up to $2,100 depending on the project. The union had been looking for a royalty structure based on sales, but has instead accepted this compromise – at least for now.

As part of the agreement, actors will also receive more information about the nature of the projects they are being invited to work on – this had been a sticking point as while, on the one hand, it gave performers more information with which to negotiate, it on the other hand put publishers in the position of possibly revealing sensitive information about upcoming games.

It also includes greater measures for helping to prevent vocal stress, which is a particular concern for video game voice actors owing to the many assorted grunts, groans, screams and yelps they have to perform.

The new contract will remain in effect until November 2020.

“This agreement is the first step towards streamlining the work our members do in the video game industry,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said. “The deal includes significant improvements in the area of transparency and the payment structure ensures that our members are compensated fairly for their work. I am excited for what this means for our members moving forward.”

National executive director David White added: “I’d like to thank our chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez as well as our Interactive negotiating committee for leading these negotiations. This negotiation was hard fought and hard won. We achieved a stronger successor agreement and I am proud of the results.”

Focus: “Vampyr will be considered a success when around 1m copies are sold”

Focus Home Interactive’s boss Cédric Lagarrigue talks about the publisher’s ambitions for Dontnod's Vampyr and why he’d choose a sequel over DLC for the title

Focus Home Interactive’s boss Cédric Lagarrigue talks about the publisher’s ambitions for Dontnod's Vampyr and why he’d choose a sequel over DLC for the title. For more on Vampyr, you can also read our interview with Dontnod's narrative director Stéphane Beauverger.

How did you and Dontnod start working on Vampyr and how did the idea come to be?

These past few years, the vampire theme has been heavily-exploited with success in movies, TV and novels. Strangely, the game industry did not appropriate this phenomenon, even though the vampire universe suits it perfectly. With their emphasis on moral choices, character development, and narrative, we thought an RPG would be the perfect way to explore this. I played and loved Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, but it was released over ten years ago. We’ve been looking for years for a studio with a good vampire game project and Dontnod presented Focus with a new project. The artistic and narrative dimensions were exciting.

Last year we talked about Focus’ growing ambitions and move away from PC titles – is Vampyr the culmination of this?

Consoles have actually been weighing more than PC for a few years now. Our PC revenue is constantly increasing, but we now achieve 70 per cent of our global revenue on consoles. Our development budgets have increased a lot, and almost all our games are now multi-platform. Focus has, however, digital publishing embedded in its DNA. We have true expertise in digital releases. We now generate nearly 60 per cent of our revenue through digital sales on consoles and PC.

Vampyr certainly looks ambitious and it feels like it has the potential to compete with triple-A RPGs. How have you invested in Vampyr compared to your previous titles?

It is bigger than our previous titles, but is on-par with other games currently in production at Focus which will be released after Vampyr. Our budgets, even if they do increase, are that of games filling the space between blockbusters and independent games. It is true that the game is impressive and has a strong personality, but because of its budget, it is not a triple-A. However, the universe, theme and quality of the game all allow it to exist in stores next to the blockbusters. But this is also currently true for many games with smaller budgets, on less retail-focused platforms such as PC. Audiences have evolved a lot during the past few years. Players yearn for new experiences, originality and less generic direction. There’s room for blockbusters, but players are ever fonder of different experiences.

Vampyr was recently pushed back to Q1 2018. How has that affected your marketing campaign? 

Many things we had planned for the coming weeks have been delayed to early next year. This has forced us to rework the communication schedule a little, but we are not completely turning it upside-down as the delay is just a few months. We decided to produce a few extra videos, including a big ‘making-of’ the game. We wanted to delay the game in order to give it the best opportunity to reach our objectives, which have not changed. 

What are your sales expectations for the title? 

It is always very difficult to make forecasts with a brand new IP. The game benefits from a solid budget, superior to most independent video games, however it is not a blockbuster, whose budget would be over €50m. From our investment, it will be considered a success when around a million copies are sold, but it will only need half of that to be profitable. These are numbers we now reach and exceed regularly with most our games. Vampyr benefits from strong recognition and expectations, which will only increase over the coming weeks. It has everything it needs to become a nice surprise on the market. 

What features of the game are you most proud about? 

The ‘Citizens’ system, which fits the curse aspect of the vampire, is very original. The player is doomed to kill in order to survive and become stronger. Players won’t just feed on unnamed prey. They will make difficult choices, as the main character is a doctor as much as a vampire. They save lives, but also kill to survive. By investigating potential victims, it’s up to the player to inform themselves on whether a character ‘deserves’ to be fed on or not. The impact of every choice will be felt through the story and the game’s various districts. It is very captivating and adds a lot to the experience. 

How long are you going to support the title?

This is a purely solo experience; we did not plan DLC. We would prefer, if the reception of the game justifies it, to think about a sequel. We and Dontnod already have some ideas, as there’s so many incredible things to offer in such a universe. 

Humvee maker is suing Activision over Call of Duty

Vehicle manufacturer says the success of the series comes “at the expense of AM General and consumers”

AM General, the manufacturer of the Humvee military vehicle, is taking Activision to court.

Reuters reports that AM has accused the publisher of “taking advantage of its goodwill and reputation” by featuring the iconic armoured truck both in its Call of Duty game series and associated licensed books and toys.

AM argues that part of Call of Duty’s colossal global success comes “at the expense of AM General and consumers who are deceived into believing that AM General licenses the games or is somehow connected with or involved in the creation of the games”.

The company now seeks “compensatory, punitive and triple damages from Activision”, after a year’s worth of talks failed to iron out the disagreement.

The lawsuit adds: “Defendants have used and continue to use AM General’s trademarks and trade dress in advertising and promotion of their Call of Duty video game franchise; have featured and continue to feature AM General’s trademarks and vehicles bearing the distinctive elements of the AM General Trade Dress prominently in their video games; and have caused and continue to cause the manufacture and sale of collateral toys and books to further derive wrongful profits from AM General’s intellectual property and to further promote Defendants’ infringing video games.

“Defendants’ video games have been successful but only at the expense of AM General and consumers who are deceived into believing that AM General licenses the games or is somehow connected with or involved in the creation of the games. Defendants have reaped billions of dollars in revenues from their wrongful acts and, in the process, have irreparably harmed AM General by causing significant confusion, expressly misleading the consuming public, and diluting the goodwill and reputation of AM General’s famous marks.”

Humvee is a riff on ‘HMMWV’, which actually stands for ‘High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles’. The same company also produces the consumer Humvee.

Report claims Apple could ship AR headset in 2020

Will be a standalone device incorporating its own screen, CPU and OS

Apple’s long-awaited arrival in the virtual reality market could in fact take the form of an augmented reality headset.

Furthermore, the device is apparently already in development and could be shipped as soon as 2020, a new report from Bloomberg claims.

The unit will apparently not adopt the model seen with the likes of Google Daydream and Samsung’s Gear VR, in which users place their smartphone into a cradle that’s place in front of their eyes. Instead, the unit will have its own display, CPU, GPU and operating system, the latter of which is codenamed rOS (reality operating system).

Apple is said to have not yet decided on the control method, although touch, voice and gesture are all being explored. In lieu of having access to working prototypes, the team are apparently using HTC Vive headsets for testing.

The report says a team was put in place a couple of years ago and is led by former Dolby engineer Mike Rockwell. The group now numbers several hundred people scattered across various offices and working under the codename of ‘T288’.

Indeed, this team was behind the ARKit software suite that developers are already using to create AR apps for smartphones.

Apple boss Tim Cook is said to personally think that AR offers a less isolating experiencer than VR, which closes a user off from their immediate surroundings. Instead, AR brings overlaid computer elements into the physical world. In a recent earnings call Cook even went as far as to say that the company believes “AR is going to change the way we use technology forever”.

However, Cook has also confessed elsewhere that the current available technology isn’t quite where he needs it to be, saying it’s not currently possible to release a system that the company would be happy with. The feeling is that Apple is waiting for the technology to catch up with its ideas.

It’s not waiting when it comes to chips, however, and is reportedly already developing its own AR CPU, GPU and AI system.

‘There are too many zombie games’ says Dontnod as it prepares Vampyr for launch

Dontnod's narrative director Stéphane Beauverger talks about upcoming title Vampyr, working on a new IP after Life is Strange, and the importance of narrative

Dontnod has had an unexpected journey in the games industry to date. On the verge of bankruptcy at the end of 2013 following Remember Me’s flop, the French studio then came back from the dead two years later with episodic smash hit Life is Strange. 

With its future now secured, the extra breathing room has allowed Dontnod to refocus its efforts on an altogether different type of title – the action RPG Vampyr. Development on the game actually started long before Life is Strange came out, but the latter’s success doesn’t seem to have affected Vampyr’s production.

“If you start to worry about what people will think of your work based on your previous work, then you don’t work at all,” narrative director Stéphane Beauverger (pictured below) tells MCV. 

“You have to go with your heart and your guts. You have to go with the way you feel; you want the player to feel emotions and to be tempted by the shades of grey you’re going to create.”

Of course, Dontnod is renowned for trying something new with each game, as none of its portfolio adhere to one specific genre. All of them, however, have something in common – a strong narrative – and Vampyr is no exception. 

Pictured above: Dontnod's narrative director Stéphane Beauverger

If Beauverger jokes about the studio wanting to do this title because “vampires are cool and there are too many games about zombies,” he rapidly explains it was actually the scenario’s good story potential that attracted the team to the idea in the first place.

“I think what was the most interesting for me from a narrative point of view is that vampires are one of the very few creatures who are aware of what they are, what they were and they have their own duality,” he says. “Whereas the zombies, the ghouls, the werewolves are just stupid creatures most of the time.

“The vampire is a trickster. He’s living among the humans, he’s trying to manipulate them, so it was interesting to create someone who is torn by some kind of personal conflict. This is the kind of thing I wanted to explore – to become a vampire without deciding to be turned, to have to deal with this new condition and understand how it works, who you can trust, and who you can’t.”

This theme of internal conflict can also be seen in the game’s setting, which was initially supposed to be America in the 50s, but was then changed to early 20th century London. 

"I think what was the most interesting for me from a narrative point of view is that vampires are one of the very few creatures who are aware of what they are, what they were and they have their own duality."

Stephane Beauverger, Dontnod

“That was before I worked on the project,” Beauverger explains. “When I arrived, I said that, for me, the main interest of the vampire is the duality between light and shadow, believing in science and believing in supernatural things, science vs religion, humans vs creatures, and so on. So we looked at what could be a really interesting era for that.

“The beginning of the 20th century is very interesting because the laws of Darwin, the evolution theory, have been discovered, and slowly science is pushing away religious beliefs and superstitions. 

“And Vampyr’s hero, Jonathan Reid, is from a scientific background. He’s a doctor, he believes in science, he believes in progress, and then he becomes a vampire and everything is twisted. He now has to understand that everything works with very different rules, so this is the first reason why we chose this specific era.

“It’s also the end of World War I. Millions are dead, and the Spanish flu epidemic is killing many people, more people than the war itself actually, and the city of London is really on the verge of scrambling down. So [as Reid] you come back to your hometown and realise that you’ve been turned into this creature and that the city is about to fall and it’s up to you, as a doctor, to make a difference. But what will you decide to do?”

Putting the story into players’ hands is another common theme in Dontnod’s games, but here, the path players choose to follow will have a much deeper impact on the game’s ending.

“Will you try to become a humanist vampire and just have a quick bite or, on the contrary, do you want to play a heartless creature who just wants to create mayhem? It’s up to you,” Beauverger smiles. “The game will not punish you or give you hints about the way you’re supposed to play, but there are different endings. There is one specific ending you can get if you manage go through the game without killing anybody.”

Of course, the most efficient way to progress and level up is to kill and drink citizens’ blood – you are a vampire, after all – but Vampyr will also reward players who don’t kill
at random. 

“All your potential targets have secrets, friends, families, jobs and purposes,” says Beauverger. “Some are saints, some are desperate, some are mad, some are criminals, some are good people, some look like they’re good people, so it’s up to you.

“If you want to take someone at random and kill him, you have the right to do so, but if you want to investigate and understand who he is, you will get more interesting character sheets on your potential targets and then can make a better choice,” he continues. 

“There will also be moral ambiguity; there are no good or bad actions. This is the most important aspect of the storyline for me – how do you cope with freedom of action when there are so many bad consequences? Because you are a creature of tragedy, you are a vampire, you are a character of a sad story, and there can’t be a good ending.”

GROW BIGGER OR DIE

After partnering with Capcom for Remember Me and Square Enix for Life is Strange, Dontnod is now teaming up with fellow French firm Focus Home Interactive as publisher on Vampyr (for more on the publishing side of things, read our interview with Focus' boss Cédric Lagarrigue).

“They gave us so much freedom on the creative parts of the project, it was a great pleasure to work with them,” Beauverger says.

Vampyr is a big project for both Focus and Dontnod, with a team of 60 to 80 people working on the title, compared to 50 to 60 for Life is Strange. But when asked if Dontnod has triple-A ambitions with Vampyr, Beauverger is categorical:

“Of course not,” he says. “Triple-A has become a strange thing. For me, it means millions in development budget, and that’s not the kind of game we create. You can’t compete with triple-A. You can only try to create a good game, with a lot of coherence, a strong narrative, good combat mechanics, good gameplay, and hope that when the player puts down the controller they say ‘Wow, that was a journey’.

"I think many people will come from the Life is Strange experience and try to face a new game by the Dontnod team."

Stephane Beauverger, Dontnod

“There is a rule in the video game industry: if you don’t grow bigger, you die or you get eaten. As long as you get success on your project, you can create more games, which cost more and are more ambitious, but it’s a very slow process.”

Life is Strange’s success allowed Dontnod to go even further with Vampyr and Beauverger very much hopes that the game’s fan base will follow the studio in this
new adventure.

“I think many people will come from the Life is Strange experience and try to face a new game by the Dontnod team and see what kind of stories and sadness and strange characters we have created this time,” Beauverger says.

“The main difference, perhaps, is that Vampyr is an action RPG, so you will have to prove some skills in combat. But people who like Dontnod’s approach on video games and narrative will be interested by the project,” he concludes.

Take-Two says all of its future titles will include microtransactions

“There'll be some ability to engage on an ongoing basis with our titles after release across the board”

Publisher Take-Two has told investors that all of its future releases will offer players the chance to buy microtransactions.

In an investor call after its latest financial results, Take-Two boss Strauss Zelnick said: “If we create a robust opportunity and a robust world in which people can play delightfully in a bigger and bigger way that they will keep coming back and they will engage and if there is an opportunity to monetize that engagement.

“Furthermore we've said that we aim to have recurrent consumer spending options for every title that we put out at this company.

“It may not always be an online model. It may not, probably won't always be a virtual currency model, but there'll be some ability to engage on an ongoing basis with our titles after release across the board.

“And that's a sea change in our business… It's been transformative for us and the only reason it's transformative for us is because it's transformative to our consumers. The business that once upon a time was a big chunky opportunity to engage for tens of hours or perhaps 100 hours has turned into ongoing engagement, day-after-day, week-after-week.”

In fact, the term ‘recurrent consumer spending’ cropped up a total of nine times in the call, as per Seeking Alpha’s transcript.

The topic of microtransactions, or ‘games-as-a-service’, has been causing a lot of unrest recently. Warner’s single-player Middle-earth: Shadow of War was criticised for what many felt was a forced effort to cram microtransactions into the game. EA also came under heavy fire when some attributed its decision to ditch Volition’s Star Wars game and close the studio to a want to instead create a title with a monetised open-world, although the publisher has denied this.

Fellow EA title Star Wars Battlefront II has even redesigned its premium loot crate system in response to criticism.

As much as microtransactions may be lighting the touch paper online right now, there are three things that critics must bear in mind:

  1. Publishers publish games to make money - this is literally how (and, in nearly all cases, why) they exist
  2. The majority of publishers are answerable to shareholders and are, by their very nature, obliged to do whatever they can to maximise profits and shareholder returns
  3. Microtransactions can only proliferate because they are proving successful – in other words, people are choosing to buy them

The latter point is the most telling. If microtransactions were hated to the extent of being damaging, they would be long dead. As much as there is a lot of rightful criticism that can be placed at their feet, ultimately it is consumers who have endorsed and empowered the model.

Whether a sudden industry-wide surge to roll-out microtransactions on a larger scale could ultimately damage their popularity and eventually start hurting sales, of course, remains to be seen. And the more microtransactrions are embraced, the bigger the opportunity becomes for those who knowingly and publicly resist them to tap into like-minded consumers.

Warner announces fresh Harry Potter games push, including new Niantic title

AR title, as well as mobile and console games, are all on the way under new Portkey Games label

The Boy Who Lived is going to have another stab at conjuring up a video games sales success potion.

Warner Bros has announced not only a new Niantic title in the vein of Pokemon Go, but also some as of yet unspecified console and mobile games, all of which fall under the new Portkey Games moniker (for the muggles among you, in the universe of Potter – the Potterverse? – ‘portkeys’ are items that have been enchanted to transport anyone who touches them to another location).

“Almost five years ago Niantic launched Ingress, our first augmented reality mobile game, turning real-world streets, neighbourhoods and cities into a global game board, and bringing people together in a shared digital reality,” Niantic said.

“Pokémon GO brought that vision to the world at unprecedented scale and served as a catalyst for the further development of the Niantic platform.

“With Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, players that have been dreaming of becoming real life Wizards will finally get the chance to experience J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. Players will learn spells, explore their real world neighbourhoods and cities to discover & fight legendary beasts and team up with others to take down powerful enemies.”

The accompanying Warner Bros press release speaks of players ‘exploring their local surroundings and taking part in a series of adventures, such as searching for magical creatures and bumping into iconic wizarding world characters along the way’.

As for the other in development titles – note the plural there, as Warner very much talks about mobile and console games – the company suggests they will feature a mixture of familiar settings from the existing lore as well as new locations and characters ‘inspired’ by it.

“With Portkey Games, we are thrilled to answer the fans’ requests for more games inspired by J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World,” Warner Interactive president David Haddad said. “We are working with talented creators to build games that focus on player-generated stories, which will live alongside the magical universe created by J.K. Rowling.”

Io confirms that a new Hitman is on the way

“We’re making great progress and we have exciting new features and some franchise firsts”

Developer Io Interactive has confirmed that development has begun a new instalment in the Hitman franchise.

The studio was dropped by previous owner Square Enix in May, and completed an MBO the following month – a deal which saw it retain the rights to its Hitman series.

“Five months ago, I posted an open letter to let you know that Io-Interactive had become an independent studio once again. We’ve kept intentionally quiet since then, because we needed to focus inwards at what we want IOI to stand for, in terms of our employees, our culture and our ambitions and dreams for the future,” CEO Hakan Abrak said.

“It’s been hard and challenging work, but also incredibly exciting as we lay the foundations for a new start for this special studio.

“About our next Hitman game; I want to let you know that we’re making great progress and we have exciting new features and some franchise firsts, which we can’t wait to tell you all about. You’ll have to wait a little longer as we don’t plan to start talking about that until some point in 2018.”

Then news comes as Io releases the Game of the Year edition of its last title Hitman.

“This is our way of showing our fans and players that we appreciate your continued support and love for our HITMAN 2016 game,” Abrak added. “It’s been made with love and passion and the GOTY Edition builds on our original game with loads of visual and mechanical improvements, new unique powerful items with disguises and a whole new story campaign in Patient Zero.

“More and more players are joining HITMAN every day and we want to keep delivering on the promise of our ever expanding World of Assassination. I also want to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you, in advance, to everyone who supports us by purchasing the GOTY Edition or the Upgrade. Your support will directly help us to continue on our independent journey towards the next Hitman game and beyond.

“We’re in this together and we promise that we will channel our passion and skills to shine through in everything that comes from this studio.”

REPORT: Who is the modern British gamer?

You might be surprised who accounts for the UK’s largest games market

Over half of UK adults play video games and almost a third of them have purchased a game in the last year.

That’s one of the findings in Kantar Media’s new Playing the Gaming Market report, which says that 6.5m adults, or 13 per cent of the UK’s adult population, cite playing games as one of their favourite hobbies.

Overall, gaming adults are 43 per cent more likely to be aged under 24, and 40 per cent are 35 or younger. Parents of secondary school aged children are 23 per cent more likely to be gamers than the average adult, while primary school parents are 32 per cent more likely.

47 per cent of those who game do so on their smartphone, 41 per cent on a computer, 39 per cent on a console, 36 per cent on a tablet and 12 per cent on a handheld. Almost a million adults watch esports.

A third of those who play on consoles have spent £50+ on console games in the last year, while 48 per cent of mobile players have spent nothing.

Kantar’s report breaks down the gaming audience into six types – Absolute Gamers, Console Kings, Opinionated Fans, App Store Addicts, Mobile Casuals and Low Tech Puzzlers.

Absolute Gamers account for eight per cent of UK adults and 15 per cent of all gamers. They consume all types of games in large volumes. They are 27 per cent more likely than the average gaming adult to be male, and are 90 per cent more likely to be aged between 15-24. They are also 48 per cent more likely to believe that having a technologically up to date household is important and 49 per cent more likely to believe that others seek their opinion before making purchases.

They are also twice as likely to argue that in-game ads enhance realism, 64 per cent likely to buy products from companies who sponsor exhibitions and events and 54 per cent more likely to buy products that sponsor a TV show.

Consoles Kings, on the other hand, focus more on big triple-A console titles, and are likely to have interests outside of gaming. They account for nine per cent of the UK adult population and 16 per cent of gamers.

These are the most likely to be male – 43 per cent. There’s also a 35 per cent chance they’ll be under 30. They are a third more likely to wear designer clothes and to believe their car should deliberately catch people’s attention.

Opinionated Fans have strong feelings about games but don’t spend a huge amount on them – they account for seven per cent of UK adults and 13 per cent of gamers. They are very likely (44 per cent) to be under 30 and there’s a 43 per cent chance they live in Greater London.

The report says they are almost three times more likely to argue that “real men don’t cry” and over 2.5 times more likely to agree to the statement “a woman’s place is in the home”. They are also twice as likely to feel valued by companies that send them mail and are very likely to be heavy cinemagoers.

App Store Addicts, meanwhile, are unlikely to identify with gaming culture but do spend cash on games and in-app purchases. This group accounts for nine per cent of adults and 17 per cent of gamers.

This group has the highest chance of being female – 28 per cent, and are 39 per cent more likely to be parents of primary school aged children. They are 21 per cent more likely to say they couldn’t live without the internet on their phone and are 33 per cent more likely than the average gamer to have visited the mobile site of IGN.com in the last month.

Mobile Casuals are mobile-focused and tend to play mainly free games. They account for 10 per cent of adults and 19 per cent of gamers. They are 26 per cent more likely to be female and a fifth more likely than other gamers to be aged between 55-64. They are also 28 per cent more likely to have played Mobilityware’s Solitaire in the last month.

Low Tech Puzzlers, finally, have a low interest in games, and play mainly on PC. Interestingly, they are the largest gaming segment, accounting for 11 per cent of adults and 20 per cent of gamers. They are over three times as likely to be 65+ and 22 per cent more likely to say they would not change the newspaper they read.

They are also 21 per cent more likely to pay for everything with cash and 20 per cent more likely to believe that a car’s purpose is solely to get them from A to B. They are 21 per cent more likely to think advertising is a waste of time.

“The gaming landscape has changed immeasurably over the years,” Kantar Media UK CEO Richard Poustie told MCV. “The tired stereotype of a sulky, tech-obsessed teenager in their bedroom obsessively tapping away on their console controller is well and truly defunct, with over half of adults today taking part in gaming Thus the challenge for marketers is not one of ‘how do I reach gamers?’ but rather, ‘which gamers represent the most valuable target for me?’

“Understanding how different consumer groups engage with gaming, their relative values and how they can be targeted most effectively, is key for brands seeking to exploit the opportunities offered within this burgeoning market.”

NBA 2K18 on track to be 2K’s most successful ever sports title

Game is up year-on-year in terms of both units sold and engagement time

GTA is far from the only success story coming out of Take-Two, with NBA 2K18 also posting good numbers.

The sports sim has to date shipped 6m units, with sales up 20 per cent for the same time period compared to its predecessor. Digital sales for the title are also up, although Take-Two did not specify by how much.

Furthermore, user engagement with the game has seen average daily users climb 30 per cent year-on-year on current hardware. The company reckons the title is on track to be its most successful ever sports release.

“This year there's been the big innovation of The Neighbourhood. It’s an opportunity to interact with the title that people love, both simulation and a mirror of pop culture as it relates to basketball,” Take-Two Chairman and CEO Strauss Zelnick told MCV.

“Every year, NBA 2K gets more robust, we think that NBA 2K18 will be our most successful sports title ever in terms of units sold and recurrent consumer spending.”

“Total users and average daily users are nearly 30 per cent up year-on-year on the current generation. Recurrent spending is up 57 per cent year on year, and units sold in up 20 per cent year on year, and that's driven by the quality of the title.”

The game will also form the backbone of Take-Two’s upcoming 2K League esports competition. 17 NBA teams will compete in the competition, including representatives from the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards..

“We're making a lot of progress,” Zelnick told MCV of the League. “We'll have a draft in 2018, we'll have a schedule in 2018 – it’s looking really positive. Starting in February there will be an online player qualification system and then each team will have a five player roster that's filled through a draft.”

Assassin’s Creed doubles launch sales as Ubisoft posts gains

“Given longer development lead times, our talents can fully express their creative visions”

Ubisoft has seen sales climb 65.7 per cent year-on-year thanks to a string of successful launches across various platforms.

Assassin’s Creed Origins is off to a strong start, selling twice as many units as its 2015 predecessor Syndicate did in its first 10 days.

Company-wide digital sales were up 69.1 per cent, and in Origins’ case accounted for 35 per cent of its total. That’s up from the 15 per cent of digital sales seen with Syndicate, and is very much in line with modern industry trends. For South Park: The Fractured But Whole, that digital figure rises to 50 per cent.

Back catalogue sales also climbed, growing 47.9 per cent.

Switch title Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle also did well, helping Nintendo’s console to a 19 per cent share of all game sales in its launch quarter, ahead of Xbox One on 20 per cent. For the last six months Switch accounted for 12 per cent of sales, with Xbox One on 21 per cent, PS4 36 per cent and PC 17 per cent.

“In addition to these new releases, players are engaging with a large amount of additional high-quality content which provides them with longer-term entertainment. This includes Blood Orchid, the recent major update to Rainbow Six Siege, and Ghost War, the highly-acclaimed PvP mode for Ghost Recon Wildlands,” co-founder and CEO Yves Guillemot said.

“And it doesn't stop there: in the coming weeks we will notably release Resistance, a massive free update to The Division, and South Park: Phone Destroyer, a free-to-play mobile game.

"The quality of our new releases is the result of our effort to transform our model and make our business more profitable and recurring. Given longer development lead times, our talents can fully express their creative visions and therefore maximize the potential of our games.”

Telltale Games cuts 25% of its workforce

“Our industry has shifted in tremendous ways over the past few years”

Narrative games specialist Telltale has announced sweeping job losses across the company.

The developer of The Walking Dead has shed around 90 positions, representing a quarter of its total workforce.

As part of the restructuring, Telltale says that it intends to make some tech changes that will encourage faster turnaround and allow it to be more competitive as both a developer and publisher.

“Our industry has shifted in tremendous ways over the past few years," Telltale CEO Pete Hawley said. "The realities of the environment we face moving forward demand we evolve, as well, reorienting our organization with a focus on delivering fewer, better games with a smaller team.

"I'd like to express our respect for all the contributions that these incredibly talented artists, storytellers and more have made to this company, and that this decision is in no way a reflection on the quality or dedication of their work. We have made available our full career assistance services to help our affected colleagues and friends - and their families - navigate this difficult transition as quickly as possible."

The studio has a rich history of partnering with big license holders for games based on popular series and characters. Its catalogue includes the likes of Sam & Max, Monkey Island, CSI, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Law & Order, The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Borderlands, Game of Thrones, Minecraft, Batman and Guardians of the Galaxy.

In 2015 TV and film production company Lionsgate bought into Telltale and the pair announced plans to develop what it described as ‘Super Shows’ – hybrid TV/game ventures that would be offered through emerging platforms. Former EA man John Riccitiello also joined the board.

Original co-founder Kevin Bruner stepped down from the company earlier this year, with former Zynga VP Pete Hawley taking over as CEO.

GTA Online has best quarter ever and ‘is a standard bearer for the industry’ says Take-Two’s Zelnick

The company's net revenue grew by 6% to $443.6m with sales growing by 20% overall to $577m.

Take-Two's latest financial results are out and it should come as no surprise that Grand Theft Auto 5 is still making the company a lot of money. The game itself has now sold into retail a gigantic 85m units, with US stat-tracker NPD previously reporting that the title is officially the all-time best-selling video game in revenue and units in the US.

Chairman and CEO Strauss Zelnick, speaking to MCV last night, commented: "We think GTA 5 is the must-have title for this generation and having now sold over 85m units it's reasonable to to believe that's what's going on."

While units sales are undoubtedly profitable for the company, it's been the profitability of the GTA Online mode that has continued to see Take-Two perform so strongly. "It's exciting that four years after the initial release, Grand Theft Auto Online is going to have another record year, net bookings are up year-on-year," said Zelnick, with the report stating that the online game delivered 'its best quarter yet'.

The results were from its fiscal second quarter 2018, which ended September 30, 2017. Which stated that total recurrent consumer spending (including virtual currency, add-on content and microtransactions) grew 66% year-over-year and accounted for 48% of total net revenue.

"I think it's purely driven by the quality of the title, it's a standard bearer for the generation, it's a standard bearer for the industry. And we're incredibly proud of Rockstar games for delivering such an amazing entertainment experience," Zelnick told us.

"It's exciting that four years after the initial release, Grand Theft Auto Online is going to have another record year"

Strauss Zelnick, CEO Take-Two

He would not be drawn to comment on the geographical distribution of the game's ongoing popularity, saying simply that its success was "Worldwide, the results are across the board." The game's continued popularity is all the more impressive given that the increasing number of games-as-a-service titles that it's competing with, such as Ghost Recon: Wildlands and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.

In other Rockstar-related news, Zelnick was upbeat about the potential of the upcoming remastered version of L.A. Noire, saying: I think it's going to do great, the title has sold in around 7.5m units. it's beloved, it's a very unusual title, it's a great big experience and quite a modern experience and I think it's going to do just great."

And he was firm in his defence when we asked if the game's timing was related to the company's thin release slate this year, after the delay of Red Dead Redemption 2, while talking enthusiastically about its VR element.

"We don't think that way, we're here to delight consumers, we thought it was a great opportunity to bring L.A. Noire back, and in addition to offer a virtual reality experience for seven of the cases, and we're really excited about the creative exercise related to that. We don't tailor our release schedule to our numbers, our numbers are a result of the quality of our release schedule and how much consumers like it."

The company's net revenue grew by 6% to $443.6m with sales (now called bookings) growing by 20% overall to $577m. All digital revenues grew in total by 31% to $302.9 million, as compared to $230.8 million in last year’s fiscal second quarter, and accounted for 68% of total net revenue - showing just how far digital shift has come when you factor in all spending and not just full-game titles.

Capcom gains credited to Monster Hunter Switch

While Ultra Street Fighter II is described as a “smash hit”

Capcom has reported a 17.5 per cent net sales jump and 191.5 per cent increase in operating income for the first half of its current fiscal year.

The success was driven by the company’s Digital Contents business, which includes games and mobile. Sales at the division were up 23 per cent year-on-year. In comparison, arcade was up 7.7 per cent and amusement equipment 12.3 per cent.

Digital Contents operating income soared by 248.4 per cent.

The performance of Switch title Monster Hunter XX was described as “strong”, although the contribution of the 3DS SKU was also credited. Online title Monster Hunter Frontier Z “performed steadily”, the company said, while mobile title Monster Hunter Explore “remained popular”.

Capcom had previously hinted at a disappointing performance from the game’s first iteration, Monster Hunter Generations, so its success on Nintendo’s new platform could shape Capcom’s future attitudes towards the hardware – especially as fellow Switch release Ultra Street Fighter II has also been, in Capcom’s words, a “smash hit”, despite very mixed reviews.

Others titles enjoyed a good period, too, with Resident Evil 7 having now shipped over 4m units and Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite shipping 900k units since September. Overall Digital Contents unit sales were up 25 per cent year-on-year.

As seen elsewhere in the industry, digital sales are on the rise, and Capcom now expects digital sales to account for a third of its total by the end of the year. Its expectations for January’s Monster Hunter: World have also increased.

Intel and AMD join forces to take on Nvidia’s portable graphics dominance

New type of laptop processor that can offer the performance of dedicated gaming laptops in ultra-slim machines

Fierce CPU rivals Intel and AMD have surprised the PC world by announcing a partnership to produce Intel Core CPUs with integrated AMD graphics.

The aim is to offer a new type of laptop processor that can offer the performance of dedicated gaming laptops in ultra-slim machines, cutting Nvidia’s successful mobile GeForce series GPUs out of the loop. The chips, which are described as an “evolution” of Intel’s powerhouse 8th-generation Core line, could be available as early as Q1 2018.

PC World confirms that it was Intel who approached AMD about the venture. The design revolves around a new technology called the ‘Embedded Multi-die Interconnect Bridge’, which allows a CPU, GPU chip and embedded memory to communicate at extremely high speeds.

“It’s a prime example of hardware and software innovations intersecting to create something amazing that fills a unique market gap,” vice president of Intel’s Client Computing Group Chris Walker said in the official statement.

“Helping to deliver on our vision for this new class of product, we worked with the team at AMD’s Radeon Technologies Group. In close collaboration, we designed a new semi-custom graphics chip, which means this is also a great example of how we can compete and work together, ultimately delivering innovation that is good for consumers.”

Intel says that it is working closely with AMD to ensure the day one delivery of drivers for new games, although interestingly it will be the former that is responsible for rolling them out.

The news comes on the back of years-old rumours of Intel moving to acquire AMD, which still struggles in the eyes of investors and has had to contend with ongoing bankruptcy predictions.

AMD has played down this talk, however, with AMD’s Radeon VP and GM Scott Herkelman telling PCWorld that: “We’re constantly looking at different things inside AMD, but this is really Intel’s project… and we’re helping them execute on it.”

Added Herkelman in the AMD press release: ““Our collaboration with Intel expands the installed base for AMD Radeon GPUs and brings to market a differentiated solution for high-performance graphics.

“Together, we are offering gamers and content creators the opportunity to have a thinner-and-lighter PC capable of delivering discrete performance-tier graphics experiences in AAA games and content creation applications.”

Sony reschedules PlayStation Experience presentation

Importance of upcoming event PlayStation seemingly dialled down

Sony has changed the time of its main presentation at the upcoming PlayStation Experience, and is saying it shouldn’t be referred to as a keynote.

Previous PSX showcases took place on a Saturday morning, often attracting big queues for those hoping to attend. Next month’s event, however, has shifted the ‘special presentation’ to Friday night. – which is actually just one night after The Game Awards.

“On Friday night, we’ll have a special presentation with opening remarks, special guests and game updates to talk about,” SIEA social media director Sid Shuman said on the PlayStation Blog. “We’re not calling it a Showcase given that we’re coming a few weeks off of Paris Games Week, but we’ll have some cool content to share.”

The fourth annual PlayStation Experience event with take place at California’s Anaheim Convention Center on December 9th and 10th. PlayStation Worldwide Studios chairman Shawn Layden will at the presentation “provide an update to attendees… meet some special guests [with] with a few surprises and game updates”.

This year’s show will be physically about 50 per cent larger than in 2016.

Added Shuman: “In addition to hands-on gameplay with the next wave of PS4 and PS VR games, attendees will dive deeper into some of PlayStation’s biggest games by means of immersive interactive experiences that blend the world of game and reality. I’m dying to say more… but it’s a bit too soon to share details. Stay tuned!

“In addition, we’ll be featuring a new slate of panels that reveal more developer insights into some of the biggest announcements coming out of Paris Games Week and beyond. We’re still finalizing the full list of participating developers, but you can count on some of Worldwide Studios’ biggest and brightest making an appearance, including Sucker Punch Productions, Media Molecule, and more.”

IHS increases Xbox One X sales forecast – but does not expect a momentum shift

“The Project Scorpio limited edition pre-order strategy has been particularly effective”

Analyst HIS Markit has increased its projected launch sales for the Xbox One X, which arrives worldwide today.

Having previously predicted 2017 sales of 500k units, the company now reckons Microsoft could sell as many as 900k Xbox One X's by the end of the year.

“Feedback on pre-order volume for both the limited edition Project Scorpio Xbox One X and for the standard version of the X console has led us to increase our 2017 sell-through forecast for Xbox One X,” games director Piers Harding-Rolls said.

“The Project Scorpio limited edition pre-order strategy has been particularly effective in driving what is expected to be a robust launch week in key sales territories. At this level, Xbox One share of total Q4 2017 Xbox One console family sales will be close to 20 percent, similar to the performance of PS4 Pro at launch.”

However, IHS only expects a “small share” of PS4 Pro owners to shift across to the new machine and “does not expect Xbox One X to have a dramatic impact on market share between Sony and Microsoft in continental Europe as the market’s current momentum is well entrenched”.

However, it also reckons that the marketing tag line “world’s most powerful console” could have a positive impact on sales of the Xbox One S, as the existence of the X machine could encourage gamers to buy into the Xbox ecosystem again.

Sales of the new machine could also help to offset any revenue lost to the discounting of the S console on the High Street.

Overall, IHS Markit forecasts a Western Europe installed base of 26m for PS4 and 8m for Xbox One by the end of 2017.

UPDATE: An error with the timeframe of the sales forecast has been corrected.

Microsoft hints at developer acquisitions and game streaming service

“We haven’t always invested at the same level. We’ve gone through ups and downs in the investment”

Xbox intends to bolster its range of first party games in a strategic shift back toward software.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Xbox boss Phil Spencer – who was recently promoted to a role where he reports directly to Microsoft boss Satya Nadella – has said that the company is looking to increase development investment. This could take the form of both opening new studios and acquiring existing ones.

“We need to grow, and I look forward to doing that,” Spencer explained. “Our ability to go create content has to be one of our strengths. We haven’t always invested at the same level. We’ve gone through ups and downs in the investment.”

Spencer also revealed plans to launch a game streaming service some time in the “next three years”, which would free Microsoft’s gaming aspirations from the need for hardware entirely.

Apparently there was even an internal streaming games trial at Microsoft in 2012, but the costs were deemed to be too high and the plan didn’t progress. However, the company’s expanding Azure cloud computing network now makes this more plausible – as does the existence of Sony’s PlayStation Now service, perhaps.

Software-led announcements may feel odd on the day that Microsoft launches a brand new console – the Xbox One X – but is actually very much in keeping with way the Microsoft winds have been blowing.

With Microsoft games now routinely launching across both Xbox and PC, the company has for some time now been talking about how it sees the product as the content and not the platform.

It’s also true that the company’s first party game catalogue is looking pretty slim at the moment. Indeed, the Xbox One X launches without much in the way of flagship hardware to drive sales. If the tide is to be turned regarding its rivalry to Sony, then strong software does appear to be the best way of going about it.

Call of Duty WW2 sales analysis: new title storms UK retail

Call of Duty WW2 is a huge boon for UK retail and for Activision itself

What a difference a year makes. Call of Duty WW2 has braved the artillery fire of franchise fatigue. Stormed the machine gun nests of digital shift and put a Churchill-like two fingers up to the loot crate furore. Some had written off the franchise after last year's less-than-stellar sci-fi outing, but this return to its historical roots seems to have gone down like a boatload of bananas and nylon stockings, although it's a little more complicated than that of course.

Over its opening weekend the game sold incredibly well, and huge congratulations must go to the developer and publisher for the game and its promotion. For UK games retail this is a much-needed boost, a cornerstone title of the season is back up there with FIFA.

For Activision, the latest title has almost-certainly smashed sales of Black Ops 3, factoring in the accelerating shift to digital sales since 2015. And that's all the more impressive given this is a new incarnation for the series, rather than a sequel to a previous outing.

While it's possible to guesstimate how much of the market as a whole has moved over to digital sales, thanks to various nuggets of data, identifying such a shift on a specific title is very difficult and we'll have to wait until Activision, and key partner Sony, make a statement - as they did with Destiny 2 beating the worldwide digital sales record on the platform.

It must be noted that this year's Call of Duty faced significantly less competition than last year's. Infinite Warfare's launch was preceded by three weeks of hefty sales by the highly-successful Battlefield 1, which was bound to take some action from Activision's title. It also had less successful stablemate Titanfall 2 to see off, another potential drain on its numbers from a fellow competitive shooter.

To use a sporting analogy, you can only beat the opposition put in front of you, and in this case Call of Duty has, annihilated its opposition, FIFA aside ironically. This is the easily the second biggest launch of the year by a large margin.

There was little change in the split between PlayStation and Xbox sales this year. The game has long been a strong performer for the Xbox, selling better on the platform than most multi-platform titles (though PlayStation retains a small lead nonetheless at retail). That's likely due to the game being heavily associated with the Xbox brand from its modern rebirth as a console smash hit with Modern Warfare.

We expect Call of Duty WW2 to continue to dominate the charts for the next couple of crucial weeks, until EA's Star Wars-fuelled Battlefront 2 sweeps in to capitalise on the growing pre-release hype for the Last Jedi in mid-December.

Super Mario Odyssey sells 500k+ in Japan in three days

But fails to set records as it has elsewhere

Nintendo’s Switch platformer Super Mario Odyssey was the comfortable Japanese No.1 in its debut week, according to Famitsu data.

The game sold 512k units in its first three days on sale, although unlike other territories this is not a record for the series – in fact, it’s the fourth highest first week for a Mario game in Japan, falling just short of Mario Kart Wii’s numbers in April 2008. It’s also only the second fastest selling Switch game, losing out to Splatoon 2’s 671k week one sales.

There was also Japanese chart success for Western-made survival title Ark: Survival Evolved, which shifted 73k copies on PS4, while Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Origins debuted at No.4 with sales of 54k units. Third spot was claimed by Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux.

There were two other new entries in the Top 10, too – Bandai Namco’s Taiko Drum Master: Session de Dodon ga Don at No.5 and TakaraTomy’s Idol Time PriPara: Yume All-Star Live at No.7.

The rest of the Top 10 was rounded out by Splatoon 2 at No.6, cumulative sales of which have now passed the 1.3m mark, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at No.8, Gran Turismo: Sport at No.9 and Bethesda’s The Evil Within 2 at No.10.

Other Top 40 new entries included Rune Factory 3: Best Collection (14th), 12-Sai Torokeru Puzzle: Futari no Harmony (15th) and Yahari Game demo Ore no Seishun Love-Come wa Machigatte Iru & Zoku Set (16th).

Switch claimed a 58.7 per cent share of the software market, ahead of PS4 at 25.6 per cent. For the last four weeks, however, Switch’s share sits at 38.3 per cent and the PS4 38.9 per cent. For the year, PS4 still commands the lion’s share – 32.7 per cent versus 25.1 per cent.

Here’s the weekly Top 10 in full for the week ending October 29th:

1. Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo)
2. ARK: Survival Evolved (Spike Chunsoft)
3. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (ATLUS)
4. Assassin's Creed Origins (Ubisoft)
5. Taiko Drum Master: Session de Dodon ga Don! (BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment)
6. Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)
7. Idol Time PriPara: Yume All-Star Live! (TAKARATOMY)
8. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo)
9. Gran Turismo Sport (Sony)
10. The Evil Within 2 (Bethesda Softworks)

Players can now redeem PlayStation Trophies for PSN credit

It turns out the Trophy-cash exchange rate ain’t great

Remember those hundreds of hours you spent hunting down collectibles to claim an elusive Platinum Trophy? It turns out they weren’t such a waste of your time after all.

PS4 owners in the United States are now able to trade in their Trophies in return for (admittedly small) amounts of credit on the PSN accounts.

Trophies, for those not in the know, are Sony’s in-game reward system. They are unlocked by hitting certain milestones in games such as completing levels or beating bosses. They were originally introduced on PS3 after Microsoft enjoyed huge popularity with its Achievements system on Xbox 360. It’s a mechanism now employed by virtually all gaming formats across consoles, PC and smartphones.

As spotted by Kotaku, a new section on the PlayStation Rewards Passes page explains the details. Be warned, though – it’s going to take a big investment of time to gather together anything even coming close to a decent amount of credit.

For instance, 100 Silver Trophies can be handed over in exchange for 100 points. 25 Gold Trophies will win 250 points and 10 Platinum Trophies will earn 1,000 points. A $10 PSN voucher costs 1,000 points.

So a free $50 game will demand either 50 Platinum Trophies or some other such combination (such as five Platinums, 50 Golds and 500 Silvers). However, even some small change towards a future purchase will be welcomed by Trophy chasers.

It’s also not clear whether a traded-in Trophy can be re-earned and traded in again, although we would bet against it.

Kotaku did some maths and discovered that the top PSN Trophy holder Roughdaw4 could in theory grab themselves $1,583 in credit from their 15,551 Silver, 6,903 Gold, and 1,359 Platinum Trophies. This author, by contrast, could claim precisely nothing (720 Bronze, 82 Silver, 17 Gold and a big fat 0 Platinum).

StarCraft 2 is going free-to-play

Players will be able to access the base single player game and much of the multiplayer for nothing

Blizzard’s hugely successful RTS title StarCraft 2 will become a free-to-play game later this month.

From November 14th, all players will have access to the Wings of Liberty single player game for zero cost. Existing owners of Wings of Liberty will be able to claim the Hearts of the Swarm campaign for free, too, providing they log into Battle.net between November 8th and December 8th.

For everyone else, each of the existing expansions - Heart of the Swarm, Legacy of the Void and Nova Covert Ops – will be available for $14.99 a piece or in a bundle of all three for $39.99 (UK price TBC).

The multiplayer mode, however, will be completely free. To access the ranking ladder players will either have to win 10 games in either unranked or versus the computer, or else make a purchase. The only other restriction will be in co-op, where only Kerrigan, Raynor and Artanis will be unlimited. Other commanders will be capped at level 5 unless they are purchased.

StarCraft II was released in 2010, and is the successor to the hugely popular 1998 original StarCraft. The game set records on its release, selling 3m copies in its first month and becoming the fastest selling RTS ever. Some of the original game’s voice cast, including Robert Clotworthy and James Harper, reprised their roles

The game was one of the early esports pioneers, being one of the first to star in big-money tournaments. Its professional popularity began to decline, however, when rivals such as League of Legends rose to prominance.

Here’s a video explaining the F2P change:

HTC talks VR adoption, Vive’s expanding ecosystem and Viveport’s success

Following its first ever price cut, we talk to Vive’s Graham Breen about the headset’s ever-expanding ecosystem and the success of its Viveport subscription service

A lot has changed at HTC since we last spoke to the company in May. Not only has it announced a brand new standalone VR headset for Google’s Daydream platform aimed at the Chinese market, but it’s also struck a $1.1bn (£821.7m) smartphone deal with the very same search giant, which will see Google receive a non-exclusive licensing agreement for HTC IP plus a number of
its employees. 

If all that wasn’t enough, it’s also permanently knocked £160 off its Vive headset, bringing its new price down to £599. That’s still £100 more than Oculus’ new price for its Rift and Touch bundle, but for Graham Breen, program manager EMEA virtual reality at HTC, it’s the quality of the Vive’s original content that remains its greatest strength: 

“[August] was the right time to reduce the price for Vive because we’re entering a key purchasing season with some of the biggest and best VR titles on the horizon,” he tells MCV. 

“We have new partners and content coming online daily and we believe that lowering the price for Vive will boost VR adoption across the globe and bring in more consumers, content creators and accessory partners.

“The focus from Vive has always been around bringing the highest quality and most engaging content through VR. Over the past year, we’ve seen incredible multiplayer games launching – a great example being Star Trek Bridge Crew from Ubisoft this summer. This has definitely helped to take gameplay to another level and brought in a wider audience of games. Gaming styles are a very personal thing, but the great news is that with Fallout 4 and all of the other new launches this year, there really is something for everyone on Vive.”

Indeed, with more than 1,600 Vive titles now available across Steam and its own Viveport platform, not to mention over 30 new apps launching every day, Vive’s marketplace has grown “at a tremendous pace,” according to Breen, adding that “the rapid growth of content available is a win for VR overall.”

That said, he’s still keenly aware of the discoverability challenges that affect both customers and content creators during these periods of growth, which is why the firm launched its own Viveport subscription service earlier this year. For £6.99 a month, users can get unlimited access to a special premium tier of VR apps and experiences that rotate every month, allowing them to try a huge range of content before going on to buy them.

“In launching Viveport, we responded to demand from developers who were looking to reach people with their content,” Breen explains. “Since launching, we’ve seen over 200 developers bringing their content to Viveport.

“We’ve also launched our Viveport subscription service, allowing people access to an ever-growing library of curated content for a monthly fee. Both services have seen successful launches and strong engagement from Vive users.”

"Lowering the price for Vive will boost VR adoption across the globe and bring in more consumers, content creators and accessory partners."

Graham Breen, HTC

Europe, in particular, has been a strong hotbed of talent for Vive.

 “We don’t go into regional breakdowns in terms of sales, but what has been particularly good to see from Europe is the mix of people using Vive – from gamers wanting a great experience through to developers who have built great content and also businesses using Vive. Some of the most popular games developed for Vive have been from European developers – Space Pirate Trainer, for example.”

It’s not just the games industry that’s benefitting from Vive’s thriving ecosystem, however, as Breen explains: “VR is changing every industry imaginable, from gaming and entertainment, to art, design, engineering and education. Among businesses working with Vive, one area we’ve seen a really strong uptake in is the automotive sector with companies such as Audi using Vive in its showrooms and Jaguar Land Rover using Vive for the most recent launch events.”

ARCADE FIRE

Another key focus for Vive is the growth of location-based VR through its Viveport Arcade portal. With increasing numbers of VR arcades cropping up around the world, these out-of-home experiences are quickly becoming the first point of contact for prospective headset owners, making them great opportunities to showcase the very best the platform has to offer. 

“The range of content we’re seeing at arcades is growing all the time,” Breen says. “We’re seeing some arcades working with consumer titles and that, in turn, is increasing awareness for many of these developers. We’re also seeing some arcades creating bespoke experiences often with specific installations such as Bandai Namco’s VR Zone in Tokyo. 

“We’ve seen development teams of all sizes jump into VR as a new frontier of creativity, experimentation and gameplay and there is definitely space for both methods allowing larger players and smaller independent arcades to thrive. With Viveport Arcade we’re offering support for arcades who want access to a range of content without having to create it themselves. We fully intend to keep Vive open to developers and to be the best VR platform to develop for. One of the key driving forces for Viveport is our ability to provide new revenue streams to developers, which is a big part of why we launched a VR subscription service. Whether it is direct game sales, revenue from [Viveport] Arcade, subscription models or getting your content on more devices, we will be there.”

All types of games have potential to be big arcade hits, too, says Breen: “The thing about Vive, is that once you put the headset on, it doesn’t really matter where you are in the real world,” he says. “The key is really just choice. Content is key, no matter where it is experienced. We will continue to invest heavily in the Vive ecosystem and introduce products that make VR creation easier and faster and lower entry-costs to VR development. Vive Trackers alone will serve as a paradigm for SteamVR development.”

New hardware like its object-scanning Trackers will be vital if Vive’s to keep up the speed of today’s current development scene. 

“What’s been really exciting to see is how the content has evolved,” says Breen. “Games and experiences have been constantly improving. This only shows signs of continuing further with the upcoming launch of triple-A games such as Fallout 4 VR, L.A. Noire and Doom VFR. 

“Beyond games we’re seeing a growth in other ways of using VR, with some companies such as UPS using Vive to train drivers. We expect this to continue evolving and for VR to touch people in more ways, including many that we haven’t even thought about yet.”

Torchlight developer Runic Games shut down

While Gigantic developer Motiga sees most of its staff laid off

Chinese publisher Perfect World has closed Runic developer Torchlight and stripped down Gigantic creator Motiga, both of which were based in Seattle.

Perfect World says that it will continue to sell Runic’s existing titles (Torchlight, Torchlight II and Hob) while Gigantic will continue under the stewardship of a small handful of staff.

Pertinently, the company has cited a shift to the online ‘games-as-a-service’ model for the move.

“Perfect World Entertainment recently closed the Seattle office of Runic Games as part of the company’s continued strategy to focus on online games as a service,” Perfect World said.

“We’re grateful to the team for all of their hard work bringing incredible experiences like Torchlight, Torchlight II and Hob to life. Runic Games will remain a part of Perfect World Entertainment’s portfolio of studios, and its games will continue to be available to players, as we stay committed to supporting and growing Runic Games’ beloved franchises.

“A core team of developers remains at Motiga, who will work with us to support the game and its players, including moving full steam ahead with the upcoming November update and future content. We cannot thank everyone enough for their contributions in making Gigantic the outstanding experience it is today.

“The staff reduction at Motiga and the closure of Runic Games Seattle were unrelated. Perfect World Entertainment stands committed to delivering the best massively multiplayer online gameplay experiences to our players.”

Runic studio head Marsh Lefler followed up with a statement of his own: “It’s been over nine years since a rag-tag team of 17 developers helped open Runic Games. We’ve been so lucky for the community that has supported us and made us successful. Thanks to that support, we have had the chance to meet and work with the best people in the world.

“Our team here at Runic has released three successful games, and over that time we have seen many changes; team members got married, kids were born, but the most important thing is that we have become a family.

“I’m sorry to say that today will be Runic’s last day open. Our focus is on our family here, and helping them find a new place to call home. For those that love the Torchlight series, there will be some news coming. And for all our fans, our community and multiplayer services will keep running even after the studio's lights go off.”

Call of Duty: WWII delivers massive physical sales gain as it grabs No.1

The switch to an historic setting is proven to be the right one

Activision’s Call of Duty: WWII is a hit, claiming a very firm UK No.1 on its debut week.

The shooter bucked the trend of High Street declines by posting unit sales some 57 per cent higher than last year’s COD: Infinite Warfare. Revenue was up 21 per cent year-on-year. The performance was multitudes ahead of anything else on the chart.

Last week’s chart-topper Assassin’s Creed: Origins slips just one place to No.2, while Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t do quite as well, dropping to No.4 after a big sales decline. That places it below EA’s FIFA 18 at No.3.

Gran Turismo Sport holds on at No.5, while Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus slips two places to No.6. There are also three Top 10 re-entries – Forza Motorsport 7, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Forza Horizon 3 in positions seven to nine respectively.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War just holds on to its Top 10 spot by just a handful of units over South Park: The Fractured But Whole, which drops to No.12.

The only other new entry in the Top 40 is Focus Home Interactive’s Spintires: Mudrunner, which debuts in 24th.

Here’s the UK Top 10 in full for the week ending November 4th:

  1. Call of Duty: WWII (Activision)
  2. Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Ubisoft)
  3. FIFA 18 (EA)
  4. Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo)
  5. Gran Turismo: Sport (Sony)
  6. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Bethesda)
  7. Forza Motorsport 7 (Microsoft)
  8. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo)
  9. Forza Horizon 3 (Microsoft)
  10. Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Warner Bros)

Apple could become world’s first trillion-dollar company as shares hit record high

Company is on track to record the biggest ever profit from a US company in its next quarter

The release of the iPhone X has propelled Apple close to the point of becoming the world’s first ever trillion-dollar company.

Apple’s share price hit an all-time high on Wednesday after a 19 per cent surge on news of record pre-orders for the iPhone X. The news came as a bit of a surprise for some, who expected the $1,000 handset to struggle to gain traction thanks to its high price.

While the share price has since slipped a little, at its peak Apple was worth $868bn, reclaiming the crown of ‘world’s most profitable company’ from Samsung.

Apple this week reported that it sold 46.7m iPhones in its last quarter. In addition, its range of services such as the App Store, iTunes, iCloud and Apple Pay generated $8.5bn in the period, making it the company’s fastest growing segment. To top it off, quarterly Chinese sales were up 12 per cent, stemming previous drops in what is Apple’s second largest market.

Macs are flying, too, with sales climbing 25 per cent thanks to the new Macbook Pro, helping the computer line to its best ever year. Apple Watch sales were apparently also up over 50 per cent.

Apple is currently sitting on a cash pile worth some $269bn and is on track to record the biggest ever profit from a US company in its next quarter.

CEO Tim Cook, who described 2017 as a “sensational year” for Apple, said: “I have to say I couldn’t be more excited by Apple’s future. This was our biggest year ever in most parts of the world.

“The ramp for iPhone X is going well. We are really happy that we are able to increase week by week what we are outputting and we are going to be getting as many as we can to people as soon as possible.”

Consoles games market is nearing 50% digital tipping point

Some games, such as Destiny 2, have crossed it

The move from physical to digital is happening faster than most analysts had predicted.

A report from Games Industry shows that in some instances, triple-A console titles are seeing as much as 45 per cent of their sales being claimed by digital.

Indeed, Activision just yesterday 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 also this week 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”.

Digital is appealing to publishers – not only is a digital unit cheaper to produce than a physical one, but it cannot be traded in to potentially claim an otherwise new sale further down the line, for which the publisher would receive no money.

Games Industry adds that while a number of big 2017 releases (such as FIFA 18, Forza Motorsport 2, Assassin’s Creed Origins and, indeed, Destiny 2) have reported annual unit sales drops in the physical-only UK charts, once the missing digital sales are factored in, many of these titles are actually up compared to their predecessors.

Sources tell the site that retail’s insistence on selling games at or close to RRP is a crucial factor in the rapid change.

Back at the turn of the decade, big triple-A releases were routinely the subject of fierce price wars on the UK High Street. In 2009, Tesco cut EA’s FIFA 10 – which had an RRP of just £49.99 – down to just £24.99. It was common to find one or more retailers selling £50 games for around the £30 mark at launch.

This of course brought with it its own complications, not least for indies whose comparatively tiny buying power left them unable to compete.

Those days are over, however. And with digital games now typically costing around the same as their boxed counterparts, consumers are starting to value the convenience they offer, even at the cost of lost trade-in potential.

Super Mario Odyssey sets new series record in US and Europe

It’s-a-him

Switch platformer Super Mario Odyssey has broken Mario sales records on both sides of the Atlantic.

Nintendo has announced that the game shifted 1.1m units in the US in its first five days, making it the fastest selling Super Mario game ever in the region – a record it claims from Wii title New Super Mario Bros.

It has also become the fastest selling Switch game to date. Nintendo also highlighted the title’s 97 per cent Metacritic rating, which includes 43 perfect scores, making it the highest rated game for any system (alongside Zelda: Breath of the Wild) for the last three years.

In Europe, the game has also claimed a new series record, beating the numbers recorded by Wii outing Super Mario Galaxy 2. Famitsu numbers have indicated opening weekend physical sales of over 500k in Japan, too.

“The public continues to respond positively to Mario’s latest adventure,” Nintendo of America’s president and COO Reggie Fils-Aime said. “We’re also seeing sales momentum for Nintendo Switch thanks to an ever-growing catalogue of games from large publishers and indie developers.”

In the UK, Mario just missed out on the chart top spot on its debut (a title claimed by Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Origins). Nonetheless, Mario Odyssey comfortably beat the week one number of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to become the Switch’s biggest UK week one. It also bettered the week one performance of every Wii U title, becoming Nintendo’s sixth biggest ever UK launch.

Nintendo this week increased its sales forecast for the Switch.

Prior to the release of Mario Odyssey, the company said that it had sold 27.5m Switch game units. Zelda: Breath of the Wild was then the biggest hit (4.7m units) followed by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (4.42m) and Splatoon 2 (3.61m). 1-2 Switch (1.37m) and Arms (1.35m) are both million-copy sellers, too.

Curve’s Bomber Crew hits $1m sales in two weeks

Sets a new company record for biggest single day sales, and helped Curve to its highest ever monthly revenue

UK publisher Curve Digital has a hit on its hands.

Its most recent release, Bomber Crew, has hit the $1m sales revenue mark in just two weeks since its release.

Curve first burst onto the scene with 2012’s Stealth Bastard Deluxe. Bomber Crew has now set a new company record for biggest single day sales, and helped Curve to its highest ever monthly revenue, as well as already becoming its second highest selling Steam game.

"We’re so incredibly pleased with how well the launch of Bomber Crew has gone, and it continues to break all Curve records, from our most wishlisted title on Steam to the fastest to reach $1m in sales,” Curve marketing director Alex Moyet told MCV.

“These numbers are a huge testament to the amazing game Runner Duck have made as well as the efforts of the whole Curve team, from publishing and marketing to production and QA. Curve is going from strength to strength – keep watching this space."

Dave Miller of developer Runner Duck added: "Our first experience of launching an indie title has been an absolute pleasure thanks to the lovely folks at Curve, who have given us nothing but invaluable support. On their advice we pushed to get the PC release ready for October 19th, and now its clear that advice is paying off.

“Bomber Crew’s launch has surpassed our highest expectations. Although the most pleasant surprise is the enthusiastic community that has rallied around the game already. Their indispensable feedback has enabled us to release a significant update to the game just one week after launch, adding some much-requested features.

“If this is indie development, we’re in it for the long-haul!"

Bomber Crew is also due for release on PS4, Xbox One and Switch in Q2 2018.

UPDATE: A reference to sales comparisons with UK chart titles has been removed due to the use of incorrect data. Apologies.

EC extends UK tax relief until 2023

Some Brexit nerves calmed for UK devs

Amid the uncertainty of Brexit, the European Commission has ruled that existing video games tax relief (VGTF) rules for British game developers will remain in effect until at least 2023.

Confirmation of the successful re-notification ensures that VGTF to be viewed as state aid exempt under the cultural exemption. Without such a ruling, the scheme could in theory be operating illegally.

It is also likely in a post-Brexit situation that state aid rules are required to be respected in any free-trade agreement, should such a thing ever actually come to fruition.

In 2017 alone 161 new games have been certified for VGTR, stimulating around £160m in budget spend.

“The Video Games Tax Relief has provided a real boost to the UK games sector and the UK’s economy,” Ukie CEO Jo Twist said. “Having confirmation that the VGTR can continue to operate until at least 2023 is fantastic news, providing some much needed confidence to the UK games sector and maintaining a key competitive advantage for British studios.

“Ukie has closely supported the work around the renotification and we very much welcome the UK government’s ongoing support for the sector. We look forward to continuing to representing the sector, calling on government to introduce further measures that will help grow the UK’s games industry, particularly around continued access to highly skilled talent post- Brexit.”

TIGA CEO Richard Wilson added: “Today’s statistics clearly show that the UK video games industry is seeing strong, sustained momentum. We are delighted that VGTR is continuing to be such a success, supporting a gaming sector which is leading the charge in the UK creative industries.

“With the advent of Brexit, it is more important than ever for the UK Government to retain and potentially enhance VGTR, strengthen education and training and enable businesses to continue to recruit highly skilled people from the EU and the rest of the world. This will enable the UK games development sector to remain world leading.”

Fortnite: Battle Royale passes 800k concurrent players

While rival PUBG has delayed its anticipated vaulting update

Epic’s latest hit still appears to be growing.

As confirmed by the game’s Twitter account, Fortnite: Battle Royale recently hit 811,000 concurrent players. The popularity led to some server problems, but Epic has said that its working on ironing them out.

Last month Epic had reported a CCU record of 525k players.

Fortnite: Battle Royale is a free-to-play spin-off from the original Fortnite. It picked up 1m players on its first day and at one stage last month had 3.7m players take part in a single 24-hour period.

Epic has previously clashed with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds developer Bluehole about the similarities between the two games. The animosity perhaps stems by the threat that Epic’s F2P model poses to the PUBG’s premium model – the latter game costs £26.99.

However, Fortnite hasn’t yet been able to beat PUBG’s numbers, despite being available on consoles as well as PC. PUBG holds the Steam record for CCUs – 2.39m. Sales are also estimated to have passed 19m.

Speaking of PUBG, Bluehole has today announced a delay to its plans to roll out its much anticipated vaulting mechanics onto its test servers.

“As we announced yesterday, we had an unexpected issue during internal testing. Unfortunately we've been unable to solve the issue just yet,” the company said on Twitter. “When the test servers are deployed, we will be running them for a long time and it's crucial that they operate in a stable environment.

“Therefore we feel that we have to delay the first test schedule for PC 1.0 to allow for a smooth testing of the new features and content. We are doing our best to resolve the issue quickly and we will announce the schedules once it's resolved. Thank you for your understanding.”

Bundle Stars rebrands as Fanatical

And launches a big sale to welcome in the changes

Focus Multimedia’s PC games retailer Bundle Stars has got a new name and a new look.

Existing Bundle Stars customers – whose numbers exceed a million – can log into the new Fanatical site using their existing sign in details.

The change is being celebrated with a sales, featuring titles from publishers including Bethesda, SEGA, THQ Nordic, Deep Silver, Kalypso, and Codemasters. Buyers can claim an extra ten per cent off using the code FANATICAL10.

Games getting steep launch discounts include Darksiders, Dishonored 2, Doom 3, Metro Redux, Quantum Break, Elder Scrolls and both Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein: New Blood.

“Up until October 31st 2017, Fanatical was called Bundle Stars, which we launched in 2012 and built to become one of the web’s most prominent and popular digital game stores,” the company said.

“Operationally, nothing has changed. Fanatical is powered by the same passionate team of gamers who brought you Bundle Stars. Whether we’re putting a smile on your face by saving you some serious loot, or blogging about new games that you really care about, we will always strive to be one of your favorite gaming destinations.

“We’ve been working hard on our new platform for many months, and we’re thrilled that you can experience it right now. We’ve made many performance-enhancing improvements based on feedback from you. A polished new look, improved navigation, lightning-fast page load times, and all-new search with powerful filtering are just some of the great new things you’ll see.”

They’ve even put together a trailer:

EA has not yet green-lit more Nintendo Switch titles

Company says it’s too soon to judge whether sufficient demand is there

Publisher EA is not yet ready to fully commit to Nintendo’s Switch.

CFO Blake Jorgensen has told the Wall Street Journal that despite the release of FIFA 18 in September, it is still too soon for EA to judge whether the game has sold sufficiently. Instead, the company wants to “full understand what the demand is” for its titles before signing off any further Switch releases.

The online fan reaction is already becoming a bit ugly. After all, Switch is so far performing well. It was reported on Monday that Nintendo had expected to sell 10m consoles in its current financial year. It now expects that number to be more like 14m.

The console itself has now sold 7.6m units – that means that in six months it has sold half as many units as Wii U managed in its entire lifetime (13.6m), and could best its total in year one.

It has also sold 27.5m Switch game units. Zelda: Breath of the Wild remains the biggest hit (4.7m units) followed by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (4.42m) and Splatoon 2 (3.61m). 1-2 Switch (1.37m) and Arms (1.35m) are both million-copy sellers, too.

And new release Super Mario Odyssey sold 2m copies in its first two days of sale.

However, none of this means that Switch is necessarily a good bet for large third party publishers, despite the success of some digital indie titles.

Nintendo’s game have always sold well on Nintendo hardware, but third party success is less consistent. While the Wii proved to be a treasure trove for a select number of publishers, for others it was a disappointment. Wii U, on the other hand, was widely abandoned by virtually all bar Nintendo itself after poor game sales.

However, there’s not yet reason to think that EA will do to Switch that which it once did to Wii U. Despite assurances after launch that EA remained committed to Nintendo’s last console, rumours persisted that the company had no interest in the machine long-term. Indeed, EA’s Wii U catalogue turned out to be a very small one.

If Switch continues to sell well and if its owner base spends on non-Nintendo titles, then you can very much expect EA to return to the machine.

Star Citizen’s Chris Roberts talks community, development, recruitment and release dates

We talk to Star Citizen’s Chris Roberts about communication, community, development scope, recruitment, release dates and more

Star Citizen is arguably the biggest game in development right now. Big in terms of budget, at $161m (£122m) and rising, big in terms of staffing, with 457 developers across four main studios, and big in terms of community, with 1.89m supporters to date. But most of all it’s big in scale, a epic space game from the mind that brought us Wing Commander. 

Despite its massive size, creator Chris Roberts is concerned with things on a more human scale when we meet to talk. We’re not the only ones talking, either, as we’re surrounded by conversations of an altogether more virtual nature. Roberts is stood in the middle of a large room. In front of him is a video mixing desk and a huge TV, and around him sit numerous staff on gaming PCs with Roberts directing their actions all while switching between their feeds on his TV. 

What they’re all doing, in the Star Citizen universe, is talking to each other. But the brilliant bit is that their faces are moving as they do it.

While the ‘Star’ part of the game gets the most attention, it’s the ‘Citizen’ bit that’s just as important to Roberts. He may be building a huge and complex interstellar playground, but it will be its inhabitants that really bring it life. And to do that they need to be able to communicate effectively.

To that end, Star Citizen is introducing face-tracking via webcam to the game, including “what your expressions are, where you’re looking and it brings your voice into the game, so it maps onto your avatar’s face,” Roberts tells us. “Your voice gets treated correctly, too, so if I’m standing behind you, it will positioned correctly. If I’m wearing a helmet, it will be filtered. In a big room, there will be an echo.” 

That’s a big step-up from the usual handling of player chat in a game, which is usually divorced from any in-game situation.

"Letting people exist in this virtual world is one of the priorities for us. What we’re trying to do is put you into this world, and make it easy to access."

Chris Roberts

Roberts demos the tech, and though it’s early days, it definitely enhances communication and adds a sense of player presence. You can see whether someone is looking at you as they talk, and there’s a notably different feel to hollering across a big room compared to speaking to someone right next to you.

“Letting people exist in this virtual world is one of the priorities for us,” Roberts explains, adding that the FPS-like pace of his game makes typed chat unsuitable. “If I’m in the pilot seat of a ship and someone is in a turret, and I’m like ‘get the guy on the right’, then by the time I’ve typed it, he’s not there anymore.

“You can do it with TeamSpeak or Discord, but what we’re trying to do is put you into this world, and make it easy to access. So if I’m wandering around this station and I meet you, and I can just say hello.”

Roberts identifies playing together and community as the key elements in creating a game with a lifespan of ten years or more, name checking World of Warcraft and Eve: Online.

“It adds a lot to the sense of going on an adventure with my friends. One of the big goals of Star Citizen is to allow that, and we’re quite focused on how players can communicate, talk and interact together because we’re trying to build this online game to last for a long time.” 

Of course, all those players aren’t waiting for Roberts’ fancy voice technology to make their feelings known. With such a huge community playing builds of the game as they’re released, the game’s forums are jam-packed with opinions.

“The problem online is a small number of people over-amplify their voice, which can distort the feedback. They trample over other people’s opinions.” 

When it comes to forums, Roberts has some advice: “Read everything, see everything, but don’t take things personally. I only respond if something resonates with me.” He goes onto to explain that much of it is just difference of opinion. However, despite being open to ideas, his message to some commenters is: “People have supported me to make the game; they haven’t supported me to make your game.”

Roberts can always temper all those raw opinions with data, too. “In some ways, the big data is more powerful than the individual comments. The comments give you colour, but with the big data I can see who’s playing, what area of the game they are in, what ships they are using… We can absolutely see who’s playing, who’s registered, who’s downloading, and also on our website, we know how many registered accounts we have, how many actually look at the forums and how many actually comment.” 

He then quickly demonstrates that even in a fan-backed game such as his, it’s still a very small percentage of people who post most of the forum comments.

Another important avenue of communication is events: “We’re more focused on events where we can interact with the community, so Gamescom or PAX, where it’s much more fan-driven. That’s our model: direct to the gamers and interacting with them and no middle people at all. It’s nice to have feedback in person, people tend be nicer than they are on the internet.”

CONTENTNAUTS

While Roberts is dead set on making ‘his’ game, the game itself is far from dictatorial in its approach. In fact, he’s relying on his players to fill it with interesting interactions – and even at this point, they’re not disappointing him: 

“There’s already a large part of the community that are really cool, streaming the game and talking about their experiences,” he enthuses. 

He tells us how one player’s ship got damaged and they were stuck in space, asked for help over chat, and someone flew out from one of the space stations to rescue them. 

“They are telling this story, like they were there, and it’s cool. It’s those kind of things that you think, ‘That’s great, let’s do things that help support that – how can we get players to co-operate that way, to send out a distress beacons so other people can come and get them?’.”

Of course, anyone who knows anything about science fiction will be fully aware of the further emergent possibilities around distress beacons, which can be used for many nefarious purposes.

“We’re really focusing on systemic design,” says Roberts. “That should create emergent behaviour for a lot of things. It’s just giving the players the tools to do it. That’s one of our mantras – to build the systems and give the tools to the players – and, yes, we’ll put some designed content in, but we also want them to drive it. It’s the only way for a world like this to work. Otherwise, you can’t feed it with enough content.”

STAR DATE UNKNOWN

If you’ve been following Star Citizen’s progress, you probably know it’s taken quite a long time to make. Progress is steady, with the latest 3.0 version more like a proper Alpha build of the game, including key features such as planetary exploration. It’s currently in final testing by a closed group of player-testers under NDA. But for games such as Star Citizen, the whole concept of release dates feels like an anachronism.

“I get quite frustrated with people looking at it through the prism of yesterday’s game business – a game like Star Citizen doesn’t have a release date,” Roberts confirms. “What it does have is us saying ‘It’s going to be at least this, and we’re probably going to grow features beyond this’. And while we’re building it, you can play it.

“Normally, the reason why people hold onto a release date is because ‘That’s when I can play it’ but you can already play Star Citizen now,” he explains. “You can’t play the Star Citizen that it will be, but you can play everything we’ve got to a level we feel comfortable letting the external world play.”

Going back to the face-tracking technology, we wonder if this is an example of the kind of feature-creep that can delay big games unnecessarily?

“We’re kind of happy with what the big picture feature set is,” he answers. “We’re working on all the bits that can tie it together. One of the main goals of the game is to allow people to properly do things together,” he says returning to a previous theme. “Except it’s all in the first person detail you’d expect in a triple-A game. You can get into a small ship, a big ship with other people, a massive capital ship, fly from planet to planet and do all these things. It’s a huge level of both scale and fidelity.”

With that description, it’s easy to understand why it’s taking a while.

“One of the reasons it’s taken so long is that we’re going for a sims level of AI,” says Roberts. “If you’re doing an FPS campaign, then there’s some AI, but it’s combat AI and actions are scripted. With us, our planets orbit and rotate around stars, and there’s night and day cycles, so the AI will have their schedules and you should just be able to populate a farmer and he’ll get up in the morning and go to his field, eat some lunch, and go back out to work. It’s all very systemic. That kind of AI takes much longer to build and have work.”

BRIDGE CREW

Roberts has a significant development ‘farm’ of his own, with 457 people currently employed by his company Roberts Space Industries, which is around 100 more than last year, with around fifty open positions at present and another big ramp up for customer service to come soon. 

“We try to be quite smart about development costs, so we do a lot in the UK and two-thirds of our developers are in Europe. It’s far more cost effective. Over here you can have two developers for the price of one in the US. In the places where there’s game development in the US, the price of living is really high. We’re up in Manchester and it’s a lot cheaper to live there than in LA. The average salaries in the industry are less for that reason.”

It’s not just the cost of living, though: “We get basically 25 per cent of the UK cost back from the government. And that allows us to hire more people. We wouldn’t have as big an office in the UK if that deal wasn’t there. I think that was a very good move for the government to do that, because now we have around 250 in the UK, by far our biggest group of people.”

Frankfurt is the company’s other big European outpost: “That’s where Crytek’s CryEngine originally was, and we’ve got a lot of the original engineers that built the engine,” Roberts explains. The game now uses Amazon’s Lumberjack, which is a spin-off of CryEngine.

“We started [hiring] a couple years ago when they did the deal with Amazon, and in that particular case some of the core people had been there a long time and were looking for something else. Bethesda was trying to recruit them, Epic was trying to recruit them, and we thought: we’re not going to poach from Crytek, but if you guys are leaving no matter what, then we’d rather you come and work for us, as we need you in the ecosystem.

“We’ve got this philosophy of going where the talent is, rather than making the talent come to you. These people are world class, but you could only get a fraction of them to move to Manchester or Los Angeles, so we’ve got a studio [in Frankfurt] with some great talent, which we really needed.”

NEXT GENERATION

Star Citizen remains an insanely ambitious project, but Roberts is sane enough to know it’s all really about people – be they players or developers – not ships or planets or the great voids between them. It’s those people that are shaping Star Citizen, now and for many years to come.

The game is far from finished, but this human-centric outlook, both in the game and beyond it, looks promising. Many games attempt to get players to work both cooperatively and competitively to generate emergent gameplay, but far fewer manage to pull it off. 

If it can achieve even a fraction of its huge potential, Star Citizen might just be aWarcraft-class MMO goliath, and those don’t come along every solar cycle.

Razer announces first smartphone and upcoming IPO

Android device offers a 1440x2560 and 120Hz variable refresh rate display

Tech firm Razer has both announced its first ever smartphone, and its intention to go public.

The company has shied away from calling its phone a “gaming phone”, most likely for fears of association with the ill-fated Nokia N-Gage or even Sony’s Xperia Play. However, the device, complete with its 1440x2560 and 120Hz variable refresh rate screen, has clearly been designed with gamers in mind.

Also included are twin front-facing speakers, 64GB of memory, 8GB of RAM and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, along with dual rear 12MP cameras and a front 8MP one. A MicroSD slot can support up to 2TB storage, while the 4,000 mAh battery can apparently offer 12.5 hours of video playback or seven hours of Hearthstone.

The phone is fairly angular and built from aluminium, and like many other modern smartphones does not include a headphone jack. The Nova Launcher Prime comes pre-installed, meaning users will be able to customise their Android experience. Speaking of which, Android Nougat 7.1.1 is the default, with an Oreo update coming in the spring.

Razer also reckons it’s working with developers wo encourage support for its high screen refresh rates, but even as apps stand they should look and run very nicely.

The company acquired smartphone manufacturer Nextbit earlier this year, and it’s that tech which has underpinned this handset.

The Razer Phone will cost $699 and will ship in Europe and the US on November 17th.

Meanwhile, Razer has also confirmed plans to make its global offering of shares on the Hong Kong stock exchange. 1,063,600,000 primary shares will be offered at a price of between HK$2.93 and HK$4.00 per share.

A quarter of the money raised will be used “to develop new verticals in the gaming and digital entertainment industry, including mobile devices”, and another quarter to “to finance acquisitions that will continue the expansion of the company’s ecosystem”. A fifth will be ploughed into R&D and another fifth into mareting.

“Today, we are the world’s leading lifestyle brand for the 2.2bn gamers worldwide and we continue to disrupt the gaming industry with the Razer ecosystem of hardware, software and services,” Razer CEO and founder Min-Liang Tan said.

“We have built a truly unique business and our global offering will allow us to raise capital to continue innovating, invest in cutting-edge R&D and focus on designing and engineering the competitive edge, the immersive experiences and access to digital content for gamers worldwide.

“Most importantly, our public offering represents a milestone for us to take our motto to the next level. This will be a truly incredible opportunity for the Razer fans, gamers all over the world and those passionate about the gaming community to become owners and shareholders of Razer, and to join us on our mission – For Gamers. By Gamers.”

Housemarque officially quits arcade genre

Super Stardust and Resogun developer cites multiplayer trends and commercial failure of Nex Machina

Established arcade shooter developer Housemarque has announced plans to back away from the genre.

The studio has previously spoken about how sales of its most recent title, Nex Machina, fell short of expectations. It has now confirmed that it plans to abandon the genre entirely, citing changing audience tastes and a move toward online community-based multiplayer titles.

“Our games have received great critical reception over the years, perhaps the best example being Nex Machina, which we published in June to great critical acclaim, garnering a metacritic score of 88,” CEO Ilari Kuittinen said.

“However despite critical success and numerous awards, our games just haven’t sold in significant numbers. While some of them have reached a massive audience due to free game offerings across various digital sales channels, this unfortunately doesn’t help pay for development, which gets costly for high production quality.

“Now it’s time to move on to new genres. Lackluster sales of Nex Machina have led us to the thinking that it is time to bring our longstanding commitment to the arcade genre to an end. While this genre will always hold a special place in our hearts, the industry is moving more toward multiplayer experiences with strong, robust communities, and it’s time for Housemarque to move forward with the industry.”

The developer’s back-catalogue is extensive. Established in 1996, it was PS3 hit Super Stardust HD that put it on the map. This was followed by a string of hits including Dead Nation, Outland and popular PS4 shooter Resogun. Its most recent release, Matterfall, was less well received.

As for what comes next, the studio is being tight-lipped.

“Our purpose as a company remains the same, however - to create enjoyable and memorable gaming experiences for players while simultaneously creating a great workplace that allows people to flourish both professionally and personally,” Kuittinen added.

“Looking ahead to our next projects, we are exploring something totally different than what you might expect of us, but we believe this will lead to the creation of even more engaging gaming experiences. Our core values remain the same - gameplay first with first class execution. We are really excited about our new projects and look forward to unveiling our first game from the new era of Housemarque.”

Brendan ‘PlayerUnknown’ Greene on PUBG’s success, Xbox and esports

The future of games is rarely certain, but we can be sure that 2018 is going to be a huge year for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. We talk to the man himself about Xbox, esports and not knowing who anyone is in the industry

Brendan Greene may be the creative director on the fastest growing game in the world, but he’s still got his feet firmly planted on the ground – or, in this case, his behind firmly planted on a street kerb as we find the most convenient place for a quick chat around the back of the huge, esports-focused Hall 9 at Gamescom. 

He’s buoyed by the success of the game’s invitational tournament going on nearby, but also happy to talk about why Bluehole has chosen Microsoft and the Xbox as its preferred partner for the console version of his game.

When the PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) Xbox deal was first announced back at E3, the game was already a trending brand. But since then, it’s gone stratospheric, smashing concurrent player records on Steam repeatedly. 

It’s arguably Xbox’s biggest exclusive this year, launching on December 12th on Xbox Game Preview and with a boxed version hitting shelves on the same day. We ask Greene the obvious question – why go with Microsoft when PlayStation has the bigger install base?

“With Unreal Engine, we can port relatively easily to Xbox, but we still have to do a lot of optimisation and performance work to do, and that’s why we partnered with Microsoft to publish,” he answers. “We’re using the Windows universal platform, so essentially the games are the same.”

"Early Access and Game Preview are just great programs if they are used right."

Brendan 'PlayerUnknown' Greene

Beyond that, Greene is keen to replicate the Early Access model that has given the game so much success on Steam. “Xbox have the Game Preview program, which is so important for a multiplayer game, to balance it correctly. We can essentially release it into a beta. It’s invaluable, working with players to make the feel of the game better. Early Access and Game Preview are just great programs for developers if they are used right.”

The company is also receiving significant technical assistance from Microsoft, who is obviously keen to get the game to Xbox owners as quickly as possible.

“We have a small team in Spain, Anticto, that were looking after the main part of the Xbox port, while the main team in Korea were looking after the PC version. But now we’ve partnered with Microsoft, they’re sending engineers to Korea and Spain to work with us and really get the best version of the game. We want to keep it equal on both platforms, we want the game on Windows and the game on Xbox to look and feel the same.”

We’ve played a preview version of the Xbox code, albeit running on a PC rig, and it certainly feels like the same game to us. Both Greene and Microsoft have talked about there being a single version of the game, but what does that mean in practice, and, more importantly, will there be crossplay?

“We’re still discussing that,” he says. “Because they’re such equal versions of the game, we want the ability for both platforms to play against each other. We love that idea, but we have to do it in a fair way. We’re maybe looking at keyboard and mouse versus keyboard and mouse, or controller vs controller. We don’t know yet, we’re still talking to Microsoft.”

With Microsoft having announced upcoming support for keyboard and mouse on Xbox for the first time, there are intriguing possibilities with players being matched by controller type rather than hardware box. 

“We have an Xbox One version running on a PC, but it’s the Xbox One version. The view distance is a little shorter, but up close the game looks pretty similar to the PC version. So I’m happy enough with that.

“It’s going to take us some time to really get it polished completely, and that’s why the Game Preview program is great, it allows us to get millions of people to give us their feedback, especially for a console shooter where you need that to get the controls feeling solid, so that people feel that it’s competitive.”

HOME GROUND ADVANTAGE

It’s certainly getting competitive, too, although Greene admits the game has a long way to go before it becomes a finished product.

“We’ve got a lot we can improve,” he says. “No one has done a battle royale esport before, so we don’t know where to go with it yet. That’s why we’re working with an organisation like ESL to figure out the best format and the best way to observe 80 people at the same time.”

Those mass player counts made the game a huge hit with Twitch streamers, but are now proving somewhat trickier to tame for esports coverage. Greene and his team are working on tools to cope, though.

“We’re working on the 3D replay system that will really benefit the esports end of things, because all deaths will be recorded and you can just replay them as you see fit. It’s going to take some time, but we’re going to slowly build a great platform for it.”

Of course, it’s not just early days for PUBG as an esport, but as a game overall. “We’ve been out four and a half months,” says Greene. “People tend to forget that we’re not a fully featured game yet. We’re coming at the end of the year and we’ll have so much more by then. This platform will be so much more stable.”

It will be an interesting journey. Strong strategies emerge in all competitive games, but counters are usually discovered by the opposition, creating a shifting meta. In battle royale, however, players can’t afford to take actions specifically to counter only one or two other players. So the game needs to be cautiously designed to encourage the kind of behaviours the developer wants to see.

Greene agrees: “Exactly, we’re all about the balance and working with players, to really get the game to a state where people feel it’s competitive enough, and the great thing about the community is that they are vocal about it and they know that we listen. We have so many people that are really passionate about seeing battle royale as an esport. They really want to give their feedback and their suggestions, and we take it all onboard. We may not implement it, but we do take it onboard to make it the best version we can.”

WINNER WINNER...

It’s not always clear, even to the victor, just why you won a particular round of PUBG, so we ask Greene whether he can offer any more clarity on the reason for the game’s huge success.

“I’ve had to think about this a lot, and really I’m still thinking. It’s a very basic game. It’s easy to understand, though it’s hard to master. It’s a big playground, and we just give our players the freedom to do whatever the hell they want. You want to run round in a pair of boxers and have a frying pan as a helmet and that’s it? Good for you, buddy. It’s that freedom that has captured people’s imaginations.”

Greene started his route to development as a self-taught modder for the Arma series. 

“I basically took elements of games that I enjoyed when I was creating the battle royale game mode. I saw the survivor games, I always liked the idea of a last-man-standing deathmatch, I liked the looting system in Day-Z and developed my own after that. It was just a game I wanted to play from playing other games and thinking, ‘If this was a little different’ or, ‘If I add this’...”

He also feels his outsider, non-industry background has given him something of an advantage.

“I come from being a player, not an industry veteran, and that’s given me something of a leg up, as I’m not tied down to knowing too much about the industry. I was speaking before Richard Garriott at a dinner with Microsoft, and they said [in awed tones], ‘Oh, you’re speaking before Richard Garriott,’ and I said, ‘Who the fuck is Richard Garriott?’ And they all looked at me with dropped jaws,” he laughs.

“But that’s me, I haven’t been in the industry for very long. I was a photographer and a DJ and that end of stuff I know a fuckton about, but when it comes to games I could be standing beside the most famous people in games and I would not know who they were.”

That’s not to say Greene isn’t a people person. In fact, he’s pushing himself to meet the community as much as possible: “When I get a chance to go to conventions, there are so many fans that want to meet me. Giving them that opportunity is no big effort for me, but some of them love meeting me and I love to give them that chance if I can.”

And from next year, it looks like there will be even more fans keen to meet the now not-so-mysterious PlayerUnknown. It’ll be a busy year for both Greene and the game, and a hugely exciting one for what is still a fledgling genre.

Sold Out adds two new Team 17 games to distribution range

Yoku’s Island Express and Genesis: Alpha One are getting a physical release

Team 17 titles Yoku’s Island Express and Genesis: Alpha One will receive a physical release in the UK courtesy of Sold Out.

Pinball title Yoku’s Island Express will be heading to PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch while procedurally generated space adventure Genesis: Alpha One will grace PS4 and Xbox One.

Furthermore, Sold Out will also deliver physical releases for Switch duo Overcooked: Special Edition and Worms W.M.D.

"The years of representing Team 17’s boxed releases as we watch the company’s growth in the indie sector has been a joy to experience for Sold Out,” CEO Garry Williams told MCV. “The diversity of Indy content from Team 17 is refreshing and will no doubt continue to further the chart-topping pattern delivered by our previous partnerships.

“Now with their Switch games Team 17 are once again targeting the best Indie releases to a brand new format and new audiences that demand this unique set of gaming experiences. For 2018 all of our co-publishing partners are delivering a range of unbeatable releases which are a ‘slam dunk’ for the boxed retail sector."

Sold Out marketing director Sarah Hoeksma added via press release: “We’re delighted to once again be partnering with the super-talented Team17 on their future titles. From the colourful Yoku’s Island Express, to saving humanity in Genesis: Alpha One, we’ve got something for everyone with this blockbuster​ 2018​ line-up.”

EA boss Wilson talks Visceral and loot boxes as Star Wars Battlefront II undergoes changes

“It wasn't about this was just a single-player game or it needed to be a live service”

The CEO of EA has again denied claims that the decision to scrap Visceral’s Star Wars game and close the studio was linked to a strategic move away from single-player gaming.

“You may have heard the conversation around single player versus multiplayer or single player versus live service and [Visceral’s closure] wasn't about that conversation,” he told investors, as per Seeking Alpha’s transcript.

“It wasn't about this was just a single-player game or it needed to be a live service, it was more about how do we get to a point where the overall gameplay experience was right for players. We still believe strongly in a Star Wars IP, Star Wars Battlefront II as you will have heard we're very excited about.

“We're also very happy with some of the assets and content that was created as part of that game development and we'll be looking at how we can better utilize that in line with fan and player expectations in the future.”

Wilson also touched on the subject of loot boxes following not only the industry-wide discussion about their adoption in a growing number of titles but also specifically about their use in the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront II.

“There's really two conversations going on there. One is about value. And in a world where a player pays $60 for a game, will there also be value in the ongoing digital ecosystem that comes for many years?” he argued.

“When we think about value, we look at Star Wars Battlefront II and we say, we start with a game that's nearly three times the size of the last game. We take what much of the content that would've been gated behind a Season Pass, and we offer that to the community for free. So we feel very good about the overall value proposition focused on keeping the player community together.

“Then as we think about players that are playing the game for many years post-launch and the digital ecosystem and the event-driven live services that they participate in, it comes down to the second conversation, which is, does the digital ecosystem offer the opportunity for an individual player in the community to pay to win?

“And balance and fairness inside of gameplay is very important to our community… When we think about this, it really comes down to what are the things that you can earn, what are the things that you can buy, and how do we manage progression through that process? … We feel very good about the fact that you can earn almost everything in the game.

“More importantly, key elements that drive progression can only be earned in the game. But there will be an opportunity for players who come in to also enhance and extend their experience through the ongoing digital economy.”

The comments come as EA elsewhere has announced changes to Battlefront II’s loot crate system. Those changes are as follows, as per EA’s words:

  • Epic Star Cards, the highest tier of Star Cards available at launch, have been removed from Crates. To help keep everyone on a level playing field, these Star Cards will primarily be available through crafting, with the exception of special Epic Star Cards available through pre-order, deluxe, and starter packs.
  • You'll need to reach a certain rank to craft upgraded Star Cards. You won't be able to buy a bunch of Crates, grind everything up into crafting materials, and immediately use them to get super powerful Star Cards. You can only upgrade the ability to craft higher tier Star Cards by ranking up through playing the game.
  • Weapons are locked behind specific milestones. While a select few will be found in Crates, the rest can only be attained by play. Want to unlock a new weapon for your Heavy? Play as a Heavy and you’ll gain access to the class’s new weapons.
  • Class-specific gear and items can be unlocked by playing as them. As you progress through your favorite class, you’ll hit milestones granting you class-specific Crates. These will include a mix of Star Cards and Crafting Parts to benefit your class’s development.

"This system, as well as all of the others, will be continually iterated on and improved. As we first announced at EA Play in June, we’re committed to keeping the community together. All upcoming weapons, maps, heroes, and vehicles introduced in Star Wars Battlefront II’s post-release content will be free so that players can play alongside friends as the world of Star Wars Battlefront II continues to grow. We know that the magic is in the balance, and we're going to make sure that we continue to make a game that is fun for everyone."

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds could be banned in China

It has been ruled that the game “deviates from the values of socialism”

Breakout hit PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds could face losing access to its biggest market.

Bloomberg reports that the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association has declared that PUBG is “too bloody and violent” for sale in the country, “deviates from the values of socialism” and is “deemed harmful to young consumers”.

The Association reportedly consulted with the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television prior to making the announcement. SAPPRFT has previously banned things such as TV series ‘BoJack Horseman’.

To date the game has not been officially released in the country, but that has not stopped millions obtaining it privately. Indeed, Steam Spy reports that China accounts for by far the largest slice of the player base:

 

 

“This basically spells the death sentence for PUBG in China,” Pacific Epoch anaylst Benjamin Wu said. “PUBG’s main problem is that the underlying ideology clashes with what’s preached in China.

“I suspect it won’t affect Tencent too much because no one can touch survival games anymore. It doesn’t have to worry that a competitor will supersede it.”

Chinese developers have also been warned away from developing their own battle royale titles. PUBG developer Bluehole was already in talks with Chinese game giant Tencent about a publishing deal for the territory.

It was reported this morning that PUBG hit will be arriving on Xbox One on December 12th.

As it did on PC, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds will launch as an Early Access title via the Xbox Game Preview program. The Xbox version will arrive with vaulting enabled – a feature that is due to hit the PUBG PC test servers this week. It will not, however, include the game’s second desert map, which is now confirmed to be hitting PC alongside the full release. It’s not yet known when the map will arrive on Xbox.

Speaking of the PC title, it has been confirmed that PUBG will leave Early Access on PC in late December.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds hits Xbox and leaves PC Early Access next month

“Both versions are being developed at the same time, but they both have their own separate roadmaps”

2017’s biggest hit will be arriving on Xbox One on December 12th.

As it did on PC, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds will launch as an Early Access title via the Xbox Game Preview program. The Xbox version will arrive with vaulting enabled – a feature that is due to hit the PUBG PC test servers this week. It will not, however, include the game’s second desert map, which is now confirmed to be hitting PC alongside the full release. It’s not yet known when the map will arrive on Xbox.

Speaking of the PC title, it has been confirmed that PUBG will leave Early Access on PC in late December.

“This has been an amazing year for us and launching both 1.0 on PC and on Xbox through Xbox Game Preview are huge milestones for the team,” PUBG Corp CEO Chang Han Kim said. “I’m incredibly proud of how far we’ve come in such a short time, but I’m even more excited to say that we’re just getting started.

“Both versions are being developed at the same time, but they both have their own separate roadmaps. Various Xbox One features and functionality will change and come online over time just like they have on PC, with our goal being to have both versions align to each other as soon as possible.”

Kim also added that “there are no plans to feature any in-game purchases in the Xbox Game Preview version”, following the complaints the game received after releasing some premium cosmetic DLC for the PC version. The Xbox version will, however, receive three exclusive cosmetic packs, which are described as “standalone offers available for a limited time”.

The game’s creator Brendan Greene has elsewhere told Eurogamer that the game will cost the same on Xbox as it does on PC - £26.99.