Google stole this spotlight at this year’s GDC with the launch . What the game streaming service lacked in specifics, it more than made up for in buzz. The software giant certainly isn’t the only one eying the space, however. from US Gamer puts Walmart in the running, as well. The retailer has spent the last several years making a push into the high tech sphere. It’s made some high profile acquisitions, including Jet.com, in a bid to compete with the likes of Amazon. The company has even been testing out inventory checking robots in around . And with the recent exit of CTO Jeremy King, it could well be looking for the next big thing. According to the reports, Walmart has been meeting with developers and publishers at GDC. It’s tough to say how advanced these talks are, and those involved with the leaks have understandably wished to remain anonymous. The company certainly has the back end infrastructure to attempt a service. It also has a loyal base of customers in the U.S. to whom it sells a lot of video games. But given how it for a video streaming service as of January, the talks could be little more than just talk.
Paradox Interactive announced late Thursday that it will publish a long-awaited sequel to the cult-favorite PC game, 2004’s Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines. game has several Seattle connections. As you can see in the trailer, it’s set in a dark reflection of Seattle, where an ancient clan of vampires — the real rulers of the city — fight a hidden cold war for power and dominance. It’s also developed by Seattle-based studio . Formed in 2015 as Builder Box Games, by veterans of the closed Zombie Studios, Hardsuit’s previous project was the cyberpunk FPS . It recently after 7 years, citing its involvement with “some very interesting projects that require the full focus of the development teams and leadership,” and now we know why. The original Bloodlines is a cult classic, famous for its plot twists, subtle details, legitimately meaningful choices, and for being a game that could be completed in many different ways depending on the player’s decisions, powers, and customized attributes. The original writer is confirmed to be coming back for Bloodlines 2. As in the original Bloodlines, the player enters the game as a freshly-made vampire, whose creation was an active attempt at insurrection. Making a new vampire is supposed to be a big deal, and requires permission from the elders before it’s allowed. Therefore, the fact that you exist is an act of rebellion against the vampires who rule Seattle. As a direct result, the vampire clans in the city go to war against one another, forcing you to choose your allegiances carefully if you want to survive. (Paradox Interactive Photo) Bloodlines 2 is a choice-driven role-playing PC game, planned to launch in 2020. You’ll be able to choose from a large number of supernatural powers, based around the clan of vampires you opt to join at the start of the game. In Vampire, as well as the original Bloodlines, you can opt for the classic suite of abilities like shapeshifting, unnatural durability, and superhuman speed, as well as setting-specific disciplines like paranormal senses, blood magic, and impersonating others. However, you have to balance your powers’ use against not only your current supply of blood, but the risk of breaking the titular Masquerade. Vampire society depends on staying hidden, with the majority of humans led to believe that vampires are just myths. If you screw up and reveal your existence to normal people, all hell will come down on you and everyone around you. Bloodlines 2 is set in the World of Darkness, a Gothic monster-ridden reflection of the real world, which is the setting for a series of horror tabletop role-playing games by Atlanta’s White Wolf Publishing. Paradox Interactive acquired White Wolf from its previous owners, CCP Games, in 2015, which in turn spurred a series of rumors about the possibility of the franchise resurfacing in some way. (Another World of Darkness property, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, has a at the French studio Cyanide.) Vampire: The Masquerade itself, the first game in the line, recently celebrated its 20th birthday with a of the core rulebook. You heard right, let us be the first to welcome you back to the World of Darkness — Hardsuit Labs (@HardsuitLabs) The original Bloodlines came out in 2004, developed by Troika Games, a studio of veterans of the first two Fallout games at Interplay, and published by Activision. Following a troubling three-year development period, Bloodlines was eventually sent to store shelves in an unfinished state, and worse, into a crowded release window that put it directly up against big games such as Half-Life 2, Halo 2, and Metal Gear Solid 3. Its subsequent sales failure ended up forcing Troika to shut down, but the game rapidly acquired a cult following, as well as several fan-driven that try to finish what the original developers had started. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 is currently available for pre-order on Steam, Epic, GOG, and Paradox’s digital storefront for US$59.99. An enhanced edition with a season pass for post-release story content, is available for $89.99.
Even the most successful tech company is going to have a stumble from time to time. 45 years in the video game industry is spotted with a few doozies, but none are more infamous than . The 1994 portable console was marketed as an early home entry into virtual reality, but in actual reality ended up being little more than a blood-red headache. Nintendo knew the comparisons to the doomed console would come fast and furiously when it launched its next VR venture, so the company took the time to get it just right. In a sense, is a cautious push into the virtual realm. It’s nowhere near the all-in approach of Oculus, Vive or even PlayStation VR, for that matter — but it’s uniquely Nintendo. , it’s a friendly reminder that Nintendo’s chief job is to surprise and delight, and it happily delivers on both fronts. But just as the Labo piano shouldn’t be mistaken for a real musical instrument, Labo VR ought not be viewed as a real virtual reality. It’s not just the pop-out cardboard form factor, either. Google made that a perfectly acceptable beginner’s approach to VR. It’s more that Nintendo has taken a very casual approach to all of this. The kit’s virtual reality experience is an extension of Labo itself. It’s no more important than the process of building the headset and various accessories step by step on the app. Or, for that matter, sharing all of the above experiences with others. During a demo of the new kits in New York this week, Nintendo was quick to point out that the headsets are built without a strap. It claims this was a conscious decision so that the experience can be passed around and shared. I’m sure there are some practical reasons behind this decision as well, but it’s certainly a nice thought. Virtual reality is, by nature of its form factor, a solitary experience. Labo VR doesn’t have any sort of video-out feature to share the experience on a big screen (for now, at least), so the idea of offering it up in a more social play-and-pass scenario is appealing. This goes double for the fact that, like the original Labo kits, all of the games included fall under the casual banner. The experiences share a common lineage with Nintendo analog titles like Mario Party or Mario Paint. Your mileage with each title will vary. Certainly some (Bird and Blaster spring to mind) will stay with you longer than others and demand more repeat play. On the whole, each buildable peripheral launches with one (maybe two) compatible games. The good news, however, is that, like Labo, the company packs a lot of controllers (and therefore experiences) into a single kit. The standard Labo: VR Kit ships with six Toy-Con projects (VR Goggles, Toy-Con Blaster, Toy-Con Camera, Toy-Con Bird, Toy-Con Wind Pedal and Toy-Con Elephant), while the cheaper Starter Set comes with two (Goggles and Blaster). If you go for the latter to dip your toes in the water or just to save on cash, there are a pair of “expansion sets” to get the full experience. Unlike the last time Nintendo came to town with a Labo press tour, we didn’t actually get any time to build. That said, if previous kits are any indication, that’s half of the fun and value proposition here. Also, the amount of time you’ll spend building varies greatly from project to project — take it from me, someone who spent most of a work morning building that damn piano. Once built, the VR experience is about on-par with what you’d expect from a Google VR. Again, it’s a set of lenses attached to a hunk of cardboard. This is no Rift or Vive and the immersiveness of your own experience will vary. The graphics are cartoony and oftentimes just large polygons. But a well-crafted casual gaming experience can be enough to pull you out of your own head for a bit. Bird is the best example of this. The controller clips on the headset, with a Toy-Con popping out the other end like a beak. As a player, you hook your hands on either side of the display and flap along as you play a bird, flying around trees and completing different missions to feed an army of hatchlings. It’s a relaxing reprieve from some of the faster-paced games, as you glide around the skies. Add in the foot-controlled Wind Pedal, and the system delivers a puff of air to your face as you boost your bird, adding to the effect. Blaster, a big, fun novelty gun, is the most engaging of the bunch. When I ended my demos with some extra time to spare, the Nintendo rep asked me if I wanted to give any of the games another go. The answer was simple. A simple first-person shooter, Blaster pits you against an army of alien blobs. You load the gun by cocking it like a shot-gun, and pull the trigger to an explosive effect. Honorable mention goes to Doodle, which uses the bizarre elephant-shaped controller. The experience is unique from the rest in that it’s not actually a game, but rather a 3D drawing tool. It’s one of the more clever additions to the pack, though actually drawing on a 3D plane with a cardboard controller shaped like an elephant’s trunk is easier said than done. The implementation is a bit lacking, but it offers interesting insight into where Labo VR might go in the future. Honestly, I just scratched the surface during my briefing. But there’s little question that Labo VR is a fun and singular experience. There’s also a special screen holder, so users who have rough time with VR can experience a 2D version of the games and accessories. Also, as with the standard Labo kit, Nintendo has bundled in Toy-Con Garage, so users can start building their own games when they tire of the pre-packaged experiences. If there’s one disappointment in all of this, it’s that it will likely be a while before we see a full standalone VR experience from Nintendo. The idea of playing as Mario, Link and the like in virtual reality is no doubt something of a lifelong dream for plenty of gamers who grew up on the characters. But while Virtual Boy is a quarter-century in the past, the memory still lingers. Until then, Labo VR is a fully engaging take on VR, and a uniquely Nintendo one, to boot.
Valve announced big changes coming for its widely used Steam video game platform, including a new feature, Events; a new look for the application’s Library page; and its new Steam Link Anywhere software. The Bellevue, Wash.-based company made the announcements as part of its at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, conducted by Valve’s Tom Giardino, Kassidy Gerber, Aiden Kroll, and Ricky Uy. Events, a new feature for Steam which is headed for open beta “within the next couple months,” will be shown on a dedicated page in the Steam application. Any game in a user’s library that has an upcoming event will have that information pushed forward via the Events page in Steam, enabling developers and publishers to reach their players on Steam directly. Events can involve items such as tournaments, content patches, flash sales for games on a user’s wishlist, bonus periods (such as free weekends or in-game “holidays”), or livestreams, with a weekly roundup page for events that affect any games in a given user’s collection. Steam’s Library page is also receiving an overhaul, switching from the old mostly text-based screen to a more visual environment. Your friends list will now be directly incorporated into the new look, with your complete library shifted to the bottom of the screen in a box-art tileset reminiscent of Netflix’s streaming menu. The top of your library will list your most recently played games, with all of your current selection’s details available at a glance. An early mockup of the new look for Steam’s Library page. (Source: Official Valve asset) Steam Link Anywhere earlier this March. The software, currently in beta testing, allows users to stream games from a PC running their Steam account to other devices, via the discontinued Steam Link hardware or devices running the free Steam Link app. It supports the Steam Controller, as well as Bluetooth-enabled gamepads, keyboards, and mice. Other developer-focused updates on the Steam backend include Developer Homepages, which allow existing fans to track a favorite studio’s next release, and store-page broadcasting capability, which lets creators livestream their gameplay footage or someone else’s to prospective buyers. One of the themes of the presentation was highlighting Valve and Steam’s existing investment in their systems, for developers and players alike. According to Gerber, in 2018, through Steam, Valve delivered 13 exabytes (13 billion gigabytes) of installation and update data to its users, with 11 billion software updates delivered via their service. This was made possible via Valve building its own private gaming network with 30 points of presence and 125 relays on a global backbone connection. A slide from Valve’s presentation on Steam at the Game Developers’ Conference 2019. (Source: Valve, .) Steam’s presentation at this year’s GDC comes one day after ‘s keynote, in which Epic announced a murderer’s row of old and new games that will be exclusive to its new online storefront. This includes big titles such as Ubisoft’s The Division 2, Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds (which will debut on Steam a full year after its debut on Epic), and 4A Games’s Metro Exodus. The French developer Quantic Dream also surprised the market by announcing that it would be bringing three of its narrative-focused cinematic adventures, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human, to the PC for the first time, all as Epic store exclusives. Epic is shaping up to become a major competitor to Steam in the digital games marketplace, placing an emphasis on delivering a huge lineup of exclusive titles, as well as giving its registered users a free game every two weeks. Steam’s response appears to focus on further developing its user experience and infrastructure, while highlighting the enormity and ubiquity of its current efforts; Epic may have a few games it doesn’t, the strategy seems to say, but look at everything you didn’t realize Steam was already doing for you.
China’s Tencent disappointing profits in the fourth quarter on the back of surging costs but saw emerging businesses pick up steam as it plots to diversify amid slackening gaming revenues. Net profit for the quarter slid 32 percent to 14.2 billion yuan ($2.1 billion), behind analysts’ of 18.3 billion yuan. The decrease was due to one-off expenses related to its portfolio companies and investments in non-gaming segments like video content and financial technology. Excluding non-cash items and M&A deals, Tencent’s net profit from the period rose 13 percent to 19.7 billion yuan ($2.88 billion). The company has to date invested in more than 700 companies, 100 of which are valued over $1 billion each and 60 of which have gone public. Quarterly revenue edged up 28 percent to 84.9 billion yuan ($12.4 billion) beating expectations. The Hong Kong-listed company is best known for its billion-user messenger but had for year relied heavily on a high-margin gaming business. That was until a on games approvals last year that delayed monetization for new titles, spurring ain the firm to put more focus on enterprise services, including cloud computing and financial technology. Tencent has received approvals for eight games since China , although its blockbusters PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds and Fortnite have . The firm also warned of a ”sizeable backlog“ for license applications in the industry, which means its “scheduled game releases will initially be slower than in some prior years.” Video games for the quarter contributed 28.5 percent of Tencent’s total revenues, compared to 36.7 percent in the year-earlier period. Despite the domestic fiasco, Tencent remains as the world’s largest games publisher by revenue according to data compiled by . The firm has also gotten more aggressive in taking its titles global. Social network revenues rose 25 percent on account of growth in live streaming and video subscriptions. The segment made up 22.9 percent of total revenues. Tencent has in recent years spent heavily on making original content and licensing programs as it competes with video streaming site. Tencent claimed 89 million subscribers in the latest quarter, compared with iQiyi’s Tencent has been relatively slow to monetize WeChat in contrast to its western counterpart Facebook, though it’s under more pressure to step up its game. Tencent’s advertising revenue from the quarter grew 38 percent thanks to expanding advertising inventory on WeChat. Ads accounted for 20 percent of the firm’s quarterly revenues. All told, WeChat and its local version Weixin reached nearly 1.1 billion monthly active users. 750 million of them checked their friends’ WeChat feeds, and Tencent recently a Snap Story-like feature to lock users in as it vies for eyeball time with The “others” category comprising of financial technology and cloud computing grew 71.8 percent to generate 28.5 percent of total revenues. WeChat’s e-wallet, which is going neck-and-neck with Alibaba affiliate saw daily transaction volume exceed 1 billion last year. During the fourth quarter, merchants who used WeChat Pay monthly grew over 80 percent year-over-year. Meanwhile, cloud revenues doubled to 9.1 billion yuan in 2018, thanks to Tencent’s dominance in the gaming sector as its cloud infrastructure now powers over half of the China-based games companies and is following these clients overseas. Tencent meets Alibaba head-on again in the cloud sector. For comparison, Alibaba’s most recent quarterly cloud revenue was . Just yesterday, the ecommerce leader that its cloud business is larger than the second to eight players in China combined.
is summoning a big gun as it bids to develop its mobile gaming strategy. The Hong Kong-listed company — which sells laptops, smartphones and gaming peripherals — said today it is working with Tencent on a raft of initiatives related to smartphone-based games. The collaboration will cover hardware, software and services. Some of the objectives include optimizing Tencent games — which include megahit PUBG and Fortnite — for smartphones, mobile controllers and its Cortex launcher app. The duo also said they may “explore additional monetization opportunities for mobile gaming” which could see Tencent integrate Razer’s services, which include a rewards/loyalty program, in some areas. The news comes on the same day , which saw annual revenue grow 38 percent to reach $712.4 million. Razer recorded a net loss of $97 million for the year, up from $164 million in 2017. The big name partnership announcement comes at an opportune time for Razer, which has struggled to convince investors of its business. The company was among a wave of much-championed tech companies to go public in Hong Kong — — but its share price has struggled. Razer currently trades at HK$1.44, which is some way down from a HK$3.88 list price and HK$4.58 at the end of its trading day debut. Razer CEO despite a flurry of IPOs, which have included names like local services giant Meituan. Nabbing Tencent, which is one of (if not the) biggest games companies in the world, is a PR coup, but it remains to be seen just what impact the relationship will have at this stage. Subsequent tie-ins, and potentially an investor, would be notable developments and perhaps positive signals that the market is seeking. Still, Razer CEO Min Liang Tan is bullish about the company’s prospects on mobile. The company’s Razer smartphones were never designed to be ‘iPhone-killers’ that sold on volume, but there’s still uncertainty around the unit with the third-generation phone may have been canceled following some layoffs. (Tan declined to comment on that.) Mobile is tough — just ask past giants like and about that… — and Razer’s phone and gaming-focus was quickly copied by others, including , to make sales particularly challenging. But Liang maintains that, in doing so, Razer created a mobile gaming phone market that didn’t exist before, and ultimately that is more important than shifting its own smartphones. “Nobody was talking about gaming smartphones [before the Razer phone], without us doing that, the genre would still be perceived as casual gaming,” Tan told TechCrunch in an interview. “Even from day one, it was about creating this new category… we don’t see others as competition.” With that in mind, he said that this year is about focusing on the software side of Razer’s mobile gaming business. Tan said Razer “will never” publish games as Tencent and others do, instead, he said that the focus on helping discovery, creating a more immersive experience and tying in other services, which include its Razer Gold loyalty points. Outside of gaming, Razer is also making a push into payments through a service that operates in Southeast Asia. , Razer has moved from allowing people to buy credit over-the-counter to launch an e-wallet in two countries, Malaysia and Singapore, as it goes after a slice Southeast Asia’s fintech boom which has attracted non-traditional players that include AirAsia, Grab and Go-Jek among others.
Tim Merel Contributor Tim Merel is managing director of . More posts by this contributor There has been some negative sentiment surrounding the games industry recently, with stock prices of public games companies in question in both the U.S. and China. While being contrarian to market sentiment is always risky, it’s also possible that folks might be taking a long-term solution to a short-term problem. Games industry software/hardware combined revenue could drive well over $200 billion of revenue by 2023, and there was a companies in 2018. So what’s going on? The games industry isn’t one monolithic sector. Depending on how you slice it, the market is made up of 15 sectors, eight platform types (e.g. mobile, PC, console) and even more proprietary hardware/software platforms (e.g. iOS, Android, Xbox One, Sony PS4, Nintendo Switch). Games software/hardware sector revenue share versus growth (2018-2023) (Note: See selected data below. Free charts do not include all the numbers, axes and data from Digi-Capital’s , with underlying data sourced directly from companies and reliable secondary sources.) Mobile games rule We first forecast mobile’s dominance of the games market way back in 2011. At that time, many traditional games companies didn’t believe could become the driving force for games. Some of those companies no longer exist, so what’s happening today is nothing new. Total global mobile app store revenues (gross across games and non-games apps, including app store revenue share) . Mobile games delivered around of that number, as they have consistently for years. So where mobile games drove more than $70 billion gross revenue globally last year, they could top $100 billion revenue (again gross, including app store revenue share) in their own right in the next five years. But like all games sectors, mobile games are hit-driven. And this could be the source of some of the mismatch between the market’s understanding of short-term trends and long-term potential. For example, Supercell’s to date. However, Supercell also saw revenues and profits decline in 2018 for the second year in a row as its franchises matured. Yet Supercell’s newest franchise, Brawl Stars, delivered . Swings and roundabouts. Epic Games had the biggest breakout mobile games hit of 2018, with Fortnite contributing significantly to a . It also anchored part of the interest behind a last year. Yet the company and redirected internal development resources to focus on Fortnite by and . We will come back to Fortnite in the context of mobile games becoming platforms in their own right. Perhaps the biggest concern for mobile games after last year is China, in which the regulator ceased approving new games for most of 2018. This weighed particularly heavily on market heavyweights Tencent and NetEase, although the regulator . However, the regulator again , only to . This regulatory risk has resulted in our downgrading Chinese games revenue growth rates until a clearer long-term pattern emerges. Niantic’s mobile AR smash globally last year, and has been reported to drive some astonishingly big numbers: 800 million downloads, more than $2.5 billion lifetime revenue, 147 million MAU, 5 million DAU, 78 percent of users aged 18 to 34, 144 billion steps taken by users, 500 million visits to sponsored locations and Niantic’s valuation of nearly $4 billion (Note: Not all of these figures have been confirmed by Niantic.) Off the back of this, Niantic is exploring Pokémon GO’s potential to become a platform, with , and the as a serious AR Cloud player. We’ll come back to these. PC games hardware/software is big, too PC games hardware/software is made up of four individual sectors, including PC games hardware (gaming computers, upgrades and peripherals), PC games, online (DLC, IAP and subscriptions), PC games (digital sales) and PC games (physical sales). While each subsector has different characteristics, scales and growth rates, together they make up the only part of the market close to mobile games long-term. Google’s new cloud gaming platform and competitors could also fundamentally impact high-end gaming across all platforms (not just PC). Mobile games software and PC games hardware/software combined could deliver three quarters of total games industry revenues by 2023. Selected multiplayer PC games (ex-China) While PC games hardware is massive, users are buying that hardware mainly to play MMO/MOBA games. This part of the market is consolidated around franchises from major public games publishers such as Tencent and Activision Blizzard, as well as independents like Wargaming and Bluehole. The console abides Console games were the market leader for games hardware/software for decades, and remain huge despite no longer being an engine of growth. The highest growth here could come from console games (digital sales) and console games (online), with console games hardware and console games (physical sales) both ex-growth long-term. Despite flattish platform growth for console games hardware/software, they could still deliver multiple tens of billions of dollars revenue by 2023. High-growth from a low base Of the remaining market sectors, a handful are small today but have high-growth potential long-term. These include VR games, VR hardware, AR games and esports. Yet taken individually, each sector is likely to deliver in the 1 percent to 2 percent range of total games market revenue in five years’ time. So great for indie developers, but more challenging commercially for the big guns in terms of scale. United nations of games Geographical games market discussions tend to focus on China and the U.S., but there are more than 50 country markets driving growth at a global level. Scales and growth rates vary dramatically from giant, stable growth countries such as China (even with its current uncertainty), the U.S. and Japan to higher growth markets like India and Russia. In aggregate, Asia could take around half of global games market revenue by 2023 (despite short-term concerns about China). Europe might deliver around a quarter of global revenue, followed by North America at around one fifth in the same time frame. Countries in MEA and Latin America make up the balance at a much lower level. Concentration versus growth The law of big numbers caught up with the games industry years ago, with the 10 largest publicly listed games companies taking three quarters of public games company revenues globally (Note: This ratio does not include private games company revenues, which are substantial). When you already produce billions to tens of billions of dollars in revenue, high growth rates aren’t easy to come by as new hits counterbalance maturing franchises. Public games company revenue share (Note: Heat map displays relative revenue scale of publicly listed games companies. Private games company revenues not shown on this chart.) Top grossing mobile games of recent years (outside China) often came from independents. Standouts include Supercell, King, Epic Games, Niantic, Machine Zone and others. Perhaps in response to this dynamic, there was more than $75 billion of games M&A over the last five years. Major games companies have been buying both growth and cash flow. Mobile games as platforms? The beauty of what Steve Jobs created with the App Store is that it democratized distribution of apps at scale beyond the early social games market. It also enabled indie games developers to build some of the rocket ships we’ve seen over the last decade. Yet despite massive growth, even the biggest mobile games couldn’t really be described as platforms in the traditional sense. Not yet. Where Tencent’s WeChat messaging platform looks like some mobile games pureplays are taking very different routes to becoming platforms in their own right. For Epic Games, the recent Marshmello concert in Fortnite held out the tantalizing prospect of the beginnings of the “Metaverse” on ubiquitous, affordable mobile devices. With , this represents a significant milestone in the evolution of games as platforms. Given Fortnite’s previous records for streaming on Twitch and concurrent esports tournament viewers, the savvy Tim Sweeney is beginning to leverage all that scale in a totally new way. Together with and the quality of its Unreal Engine, the lessons learned from Fortnite and partial owner Tencent are leading to new horizons. Where Epic Games is building a metaverse that is a little like Ready Player One without the headsets, Niantic has taken a different approach. Leveraging the real-world, big data stream coming from Pokémon GO, Niantic is building the core of an AR cloud ecosystem to challenge Google, Apple and Facebook. It could also move the company far beyond its entertainment origins for real-world navigation, social, e-commerce, advertising and more. Epic Games and Niantic could become two of the most valuable platform companies in the world, with long-term potential even they might not fully understand yet. To infinity and beyond All this potential doesn’t mean that short-term concerns aren’t valid, or that some games companies (even those currently at scale) might not fall from grace. Some of the volatility of recent times could turn out to be right on the money. When we talked to Epic Games’ CEO Tim Sweeney about all of this, he said “I think that we’re just in the final days of a long transition away from the old retail-centric game release model. Good times ahead.” With the long-term prospects for games still looking positive, the brave, bold and lucky could have a bright future.
(Nintendo Photo) Nintendo made a surprise announcement Wednesday morning at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, unveiling a crossover between one of its tentpole franchises and a recent independent hit that debuted last year on the Switch. Cadence of Hyrule is a mash-up between The Legend of Zelda and 2015’s , which sees Necrodancer‘s heroine Cadence unexpectedly visiting the world of Hyrule. Once there, she teams up with Link and Princess Zelda for an adventure. Cadence, which debuts this spring for the Switch, is developed by Necrodancer‘s original studio, the Vancouver, B.C.-based Brace Yourself Games, with a soundtrack by , the Seattle-based musician who composed music for the original Necrodancer, Super Meat Boy, and The Binding of Isaac. Cadence‘s music will feature remixes of classic music from the Zelda series. As with Necrodancer, Cadence of Hyrule is a 2D dungeon crawler, with the additional mechanic that you can only move or attack if you do so while staying on beat with the game’s soundtrack. If you manage to keep your character’s action in time with the music, you receive a multiplier that boosts your score; if you miss a beat, you may end up leaving yourself vulnerable to enemies’ attacks. The effect is to encourage you to play the game like it’s an instrument, staying in tune and constantly moving. Over the course of the last few years, Crypt of the Necrodancer has been ported from its PC debut to every system under the sun, and made its this past February, in a new edition that featured a brand new playable character. It also features a prequel expansion, Amplified, which expands its character roster and adds a new zone. Necrodancer won the for Best Audio in 2016. Keep the beat and keep Hyrule from meeting certain doom when Cadence of Hyrule – Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring the Legend of from comes to this spring! — Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) The debut of Cadence of Hyrule came at the end of a scheduled “ where Nintendo’s Kirk Scott and Katie Casper presented a half-hour pre-taped showcase of upcoming independent games for the Nintendo Switch. Other announcements from this morning’s Nindies show include: Stranger Things 3: The Game, a 2-player co-op adventure game developed in Texas by, scheduled to release on July 4, the same day as season 3 debut of Netflix’s Stranger Things. The game is promised to let you “delve deeper into” the strange events of the show’s third season. a surprisingly faithful sequel to Sunsoft’s NES classic, is available for purchase on Switch today. Katana Zero, a “neo-noir” action platformer that challenges players to take on the role of a deadly but fragile assassin, will be out for the Switch on April 18. The Red Lantern, the debut project from the California studio Timberline, where the player (voiced by Ashly Burch) goes to Alaska to compete in the dog-sledding race, but ends up being challenged to survive a trip across the wilderness. It’s planned to come out on Switch at some point in 2019. Rad, by cult-favorite developer Double Fine Productions, is an action game set in a 1980s vision of post-nuclear destruction, with a hero that fights mutants by turning into animal-human hybrids. It’s planned to be out this summer. Devolver Digital, famous for publishing weird independent games, is bringing Victor “” Agren’s stylish, violent shoot-’em-up My Friend Pedro to the Switch in June. , by Chance Agency, is an “emotional survival game” about being the last human cab driver in an automation-driven city in California. You must manage your passengers’ reviews, keep your emotions in check, and stay employed while searching for your best friend. It’s scheduled for this summer. The Polish-developed survival horror game is coming to the Switch in May. Unusual for the larger games industry, a lot of these “Nindies” are scheduled to come out at some point in the summer, which is traditionally a dry spell for video game releases. At least on the Switch, it looks like there won’t be much of a games drought in 2019.
published its , focused on identifying changes in the ways US consumers engage with various types of media. Led by an independent research firm, the survey had roughly 2,000 consumer respondents across demographics – with the report categorizing respondents based on age (Gen-Z: ages 14-21, Millenials: 22-35, Gen-X: 36-52, Boomers: 53-71, and Matures: 72+). While already accompanied by a succinct , the report can largely be summarized in just a couple of sentences: more people are using streaming or alternative media services than ever before, largely due to more user freedom and customization, though the growing quantity and fragmentation of platforms are becoming more frustrating for users to manage. The survey results directionally echo already well-discussed dynamics, which we’ve previously dug into such as , and . Instead, the most poignant aspects of the report were not the answers or conclusions themselves, but the immense level of support many of them received. Somewhat interesting:
is an impressive piece of engineering to be sure: Delivering high definition, high framerate, low latency video to devices like tablets and phones is an accomplishment in itself. But the game streaming services faces serious challenges if it wants to compete with the likes of Xbox and PlayStation, or even plain old PCs and smartphones. Here are our nine biggest questions about what the service will be and how it’ll work. 1. What’s the game selection like? We saw Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (a lot) and Doom: Eternal, and a few other things , but otherwise Google’s presentation was pretty light on details as far as what games exactly we can expect to see on there. It’s not an easy question to answer, since this isn’t just a question of “all PC games,” or “all games from these 6 publishers.” Stadia requires a game be ported, or partly recoded to fit its new environment — in this case a Linux-powered PC. That’s not unusual, but it isn’t trivial either. Porting is just part of the job for a major studio like Ubisoft, which regularly publishes on multiple platforms simultaneously, but for a smaller developer or a more specialized game, it’s not so straightforward. Jade Raymond will be in charge of both first-party games just for Stadia as well as developer relations; she said that the team will be “working with external developers to bring all of the bleeding edge technology you have seen today available to partner studios big and small.” What that tells me is that every game that comes to Stadia will require special attention. That’s not a good sign for selection, but it does suggest that anything available on it will run well. 2. What will it cost? Perhaps the topic Google avoided the most was what the heck the business model is for this whole thing. Do you pay a subscription fee? Is it part of YouTube or maybe YouTube Red? Do they make money off sales of games after someone plays the instant demo? Is it free for an hour a day? Will it show ads every 15 minutes? Will publishers foot the bill as part of their normal marketing budget? No one knows! It’s a difficult play because the most obvious way to monetize also limits the product’s exposure. Asking people to subscribe adds a lot of friction to a platform where the entire idea is to get you playing within 5 seconds. Putting ads in is an easy way to let people jump in and have it be monetized a small amount. You could even advertise the game itself and offer a one-time 10 percent off coupon or something. Then mention that YouTube Red subscribers don’t see ads at all. Sounds reasonable, but Google didn’t mention anything like this at all. We’ll probably hear more later this year closer to launch, but it’s hard to judge the value of the service when we have no idea what it will cost. 3. What about iOS devices? Google and Apple are bitter rivals in a lot of ways, but it’s hard to get around the fact that iPhone owners tend to be the most lucrative mobile customers. Yet there were none in the live demo and no availability mentioned for iOS. Depending on its business model, Google may have locked itself out of the App Store. Apple doesn’t let you essentially run a store within its store (as we have seen in cases like Amazon and Epic) and if that’s part of the Stadia offering, it’s not going to fly. An app that just lets you play might be a possibility, but since none was mentioned, it’s possible Google is using Stadia as a platform exclusive to draw people to Pixel devices. That kind of puts a limit on the pitch that you can play on devices you already have. 4. What about games you already own? A big draw of game streaming is to buy a game once and play it anywhere. Sometimes you want to play the big awesome story parts on your 60-inch TV in surround sound, but do a little inventory and quest management on your laptop at the cafe. That’s what systems like Steam Link offer. Epic Games is taking on Steam with its own digital game store, which includes higher take-home revenue rates for developers. But Google didn’t mention how its ownership system will work, or whether there would be a way to play games you already own on the service. This is a big consideration for many gamers. It was mentioned that there would be cross platform play and perhaps even the ability to bring saves to other platforms, but how that would work was left to the imagination. Frankly I’m skeptical. Letting people show they own a game and giving them access to it is a recipe for scamming and trouble, but not supporting it is missing out on a huge application for the service. Google’s caught between a rock and a hard place here. 5. Can you really convert viewers to players? This is a bit more of an abstract question, but it comes from the basic idea that people specifically come to YouTube and Twitch to watch games, not play them. Mobile viewership is huge because streams are a great way to kill time on a train or bus ride, or during a break at school. These viewers often don’t want to play at those times, and couldn’t if they did want to! So the question is, are there really enough people watching gaming content on YouTube who will actually actively switch to playing just like that? Photo: Maskot / Getty Images To be fair, the idea of a game trailer that lets you play what you just saw five seconds later is brilliant. I’m 100 percent on board there. But people don’t watch dozens of hours of game trailers a week — they watch famous streamers play Fortnite and PUBG and do speedruns of Dark Souls and Super Mario Bros 1. These audiences are much harder to change into players. The potential of joining a game with a streamer, or affecting them somehow, or picking up at the spot they left off, to try fighting a boss on your own or seeing how their character controls, is a good one, but making that happen goes far, far beyond the streaming infrastructure Google has created here. It involves rewriting the rules on how games are developed and published. We saw attempts at this from Beam, later acquired by Microsoft, but it never really bloomed. Streaming is a low-commitment, passive form of entertainment, which is kind of why it’s so popular. Turning that into an active, involved form of entertainment is far from straightforward. 6. How’s the image quality? Games these days have mind-blowing graphics. , but when it came to looks that game was a showstopper. And part of what made it great were the tiny details in textures and subtle gradations of light that are only just recently possible with advances in shaders, volumetric fog, and so on. Will those details really come through in a stream? Damn. Don’t get me wrong. I know a 1080p stream looks decent. But the simple fact is that high-efficiency HD video compression reduces detail in a noticeable way. You just can’t perfectly recreate an image if you have to send it 60 times per second with only a few milliseconds to compress and decompress it. It’s how image compression works. For some people this won’t be a big deal. They really might not care about the loss of some visual fidelity — the convenience factor may outweigh it by a ton. But there are others for whom it may be distracting, those who have invested in a powerful gaming console or PC that gives them better detail at higher framerates than Stadia can possibly offer. It’s not apples to apples but Google has to consider these things, especially when the difference is noticeable enough that game developers and publishers start to note that a game is “best experienced locally” or something like that. 7. Will people really game on the go? I don’t question whether people play games on mobile. That’s one of the biggest businesses in the world. But I’m not sure that people want to play Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey on their iPa… I mean, Pixel Slate. Let alone their smartphone. Games on phones and tablets are frequently time-killers driven by addictive short-duration game sessions. Even the bigger, more console-like games on mobile usually aim for shorter play sessions. That may be changing in some ways for sure but it’s a consideration, and AAA console games really just aren’t designed for 5-10 minute gaming sessions. Add to that that you have to carry around what looks like a and this becomes less of an option for things like planes, cafes, subway rides, and so on. Even if you did bring it, could you be sure you’ll get the 10 or 20 Mbps you’ll need to get that 60FPS video rate? And don’t say 5G. If anyone says 5G again after the last couple months I’m going to lose it. Naturally the counterpoint here is Nintendo’s fabulously successful and portable Switch. But the Switch plays both sides, providing a console-like experience on the go that makes sense because of its frictionless game state saving and offline operation. Stadia doesn’t seem to offer anything like that. In some ways it could be more compelling, but it’s a hard sell right now. 8. How will multiplayer work? Obviously multiplayer gaming is huge right now and likely will be forever, so the Stadia will for sure support multiplayer one way or another. But multiplayer is also really complicated. It used to be that someone just picked up the second controller and played Luigi. Now you have friend codes, accounts, user IDs, automatic matchmaking, all kinds of junk. If I want to play The Division 2 with a friend via Stadia, how does that work? Can I use my existing account? How do I log in? Are there IP issues and will the whole rigmarole of the game running in some big server farm set off cheat detectors or send me a security warning email? What if two people want to play a game locally? Many of the biggest gaming properties in the world are multiplayer focused, and without a very, very clear line on this it’s going to turn a lot of people off. The platform might be great for it — but they have some convincing to do. 9. Stadia? Branding is hard. Launching a product that aims to reach millions and giving it a name that not only represents it well but isn’t already taken is hard. But that said… Stadia? I guess the idea is that each player is kind of in a stadium of their own… or that they’re in a stadium where Ninja is playing, and then they can go down to join? Certainly Stadia is more distinctive than stadium and less copyright-fraught than Colosseum or the like. Arena is probably out too. If only Google already owned something that indicated gaming but was simple, memorable, and fit with its existing “Google ___” set of consumer-focused apps, brands, and services. Oh well!