GDC Reports on the State of the Industry

I had a chance to thumb through “The State of the Game Industry” report presented by GDC for 2018. You can get a copy of the report by signing up here. The pdf is 19 pages long, big on charts and small on projections. Which I guess is the point of a snapshot. Every year for the last six years the GDC surveys a couple of thousand devs about their positions on the game industry. Topics include platform strategy, marketing channels, and monetization.

Industry Trends

Here are some of the interesting trends from the survey.

  • PC remains the target platform of choice for most developers
  • Interest in mobile platforms declined slightly
  • Interest in VR/AR platforms fell slightly
  • The Nintendo Switch appeals to more devs
  • Social Media is the marketing outlet of choice
  • Most devs are self-funded

On that last point, we go into business to make money, right? There’s an extended discussion of monetization strategies, and this year survey respondents addressed the contentious loot boxes topic. There’s a variety of opinions on their appropriateness and hints of cultural differences between Asian markets and Western markets. Here’s a sobering quote though:

“Game devs often do not generate enough revenue from sales to support the team required to make the games the audience demands.”

eSports

Developers remain steadfastly confident that eSports are here to stay. This quote sums it up nicely:

“StarCraft exists, so by definition, it is a sustainable business,” wrote one respondent. “I am not particularly interested in getting involved in the development of an eSport, however. Being tied down to developing and supporting a single game for the rest of my career sounds pretty hellish, in fact.”

I hear that.

The Game Developer’s Conference takes place March 19 to 23 this year, in San Francisco as usual. So if you’re a dev and interested in going, you know where to get the info and passes.

Yongyea Analyzes the System Shock Kickstarter

Yongyea gives us a 16 minute update on the troubled System Shock remaster Kickstarter project.

The always thorough Yongyea provides the litany of problems Nightdive brought on itself with this project. The 2015 Kickstarter brought in a phenomenal $1.3 million in funding, plus an additional $100,000 on Backerkit. You would expect this to be easy money for the devs. Here we are, almost three years later, and the thing is on indefinite hold.  Just a few red flags from Yongyea’s video:

  • Engine switch from Unity to Unreal
  • Art direction changes
  • Infrequent campaign updates
  • No hard delivery dates

A Troubled Kickstarter

Sounds like scope creep galore to me. Had I backed this project, the second they switched from Unity to Unreal I would have started wondering if I had wasted my money. From every game I’ve ever followed in the past, if there are problems during development or at the market, it can usually be traced back to the misguided decision to change engines mid development. The less-than-inspiring artwork shown afterward, as well as the musings about “modern design,” are enough to make me feel queasy. And I’m not even a backer. It’s like watching a car crash in motion.

I was surprised to see that CEO Steve Kick got his start as a character artist for SOE. Since 2012 he’s made a career off of giving old games facelifts on GOG and Steam. As a matter of fact, I own the updated versions of System Shock and System Shock 2 on GOG. So he has some business experience. Yongyea says Mr. Kick may have let the successful funding go to his head. It certainly sounds that way from his latest update, in which he admits things got away from him.

As some commentators observed, all Nightdive really had to do was update the controls and graphics, and give SHODAN new dialog. So why mess with the formula? Pride and ambition, perhaps. If, as Steve Kick’s bio claims, he really wanted to make his own games, he should have developed his own IP with modern design principles. I’m sure Nightdive will eventually get the game out there. But good will squandered is hard to recover. Just ask the Star Citizen guys.

What a shame.

Derek Yu Talks to Rolling Stone

Over at Glixel, Rolling Stone talks with Derek Yu, of Spelunky fame. I hadn’t realized the indie darling went through such a windy road in his career. Compare this interview with the piece about Tokyo Jungle and Yohei Kataoka’s path. There are some similarities between the two creatives, but whereas one guy is indie-famous and released a smash hit, we’re left wondering what the other is doing these days. It’s kind of sobering.

On the surface, their outcomes appear counterintuitive. Yu is mostly a self-made success, with lots of shout-outs to his parents and support system, of course. Kataoka and his team achieved only moderate results despite the support of a big publisher – and who’s bigger than Sony in Japan? But then, if we think about it for a few minutes, large risks can and do lead to large payoffs. Sometimes.

Passion and drive are key components in this space for anybody. If you’re going indie and you’re solo, you lose out on the benefits of structured guidance. And let’s not understate the importance of a regular check. You have to make your own star and follow it too. Not the easiest thing in the world to do. And I suspect that, given how many start out on this path and flame out, there’s a strong survivor bias as to what works and what doesn’t. Just look at the journalist’s comments about how not many indies became household names. That’s a laughable statement: never heard of John Carmack and John Romero, huh? But I get the point. At least in the early 80s, designers weren’t celebrated, and it took disaffected Atari devs who formed Activision, along with Trip Hawkins at EA, to change the culture to where designers and teams got their names in the product.

Still, now that the golden era of indies seems to be fading – at least from the halcyon days of 2005-2013 – I wonder how the next generation will turn out. New platforms and new opportunities abound to be seized by those with the right ambition, vision, and a little bit of luck.

Tokyo Jungle – Some Inspiration for Game Devs

I saw this item on Gamasutra: a 2013 GDC talk about inexperienced devs creating Tokyo Jungle. Yohei Kataoka is the speaker. The video is about an hour long, though the Q&A is the last 10-15 minutes or so, and you can skip it in my opinion.

 

From my notes, the interesting part is how many concepts the studio developed before finally settling on Tokyo Jungle. Some of those, like a lone cartographer charting a 2D open world, sound like they could have been good games. Some of the seemingly serendipitous events Katakoa describes contributed to his studio’s success with SCE and their product. The critic reviews weren’t great, but they did manage to ship a game on a console. I call that a big win.

I rather like the idea of the team handling most of its marketing materials. That initial keyframe animation for Tokyo Jungle done in After Effects was probably far more effective than any talking pitch they could have done. I instantly got what they were shooting for, without having to sift through a ten-pager or even glance at a one page DD.

In the five years since the talk, I think some are still debating what’s going on with the Japanese game front. But beyond a short anime game in 2014, I can’t find anything else that the Crispy’s team has worked on. So that’s kind of an anti-climatic feeling after the inspirational talk. The main takeaway though is to use some good business sense when getting into indie dev. Kataoka and his initial team knew that they needed funding to continue working on games, or as he puts it, to be profitable. That should be the only concern if you’re reaching beyond the hobbyist level.

Cryptocurrency and the Reserve List

Just a quick post today. A few days ago, Rudy (Alpha Investments) made a very interesting video regarding the Magic Reserve List and capital flowing into the Vintage game thanks to the Cryptocurrency boom. The video is about 20 minutes long, but worth it if you’re interested in how the market is getting affected by bitcoin, and other freshly minted millionaires thanks to the crypto craze.

 

Top Sellers of 2017

Last year I wrote about the best sellers on Steam, and I see no reason not to continue that tradition this year. I’ll only list the “platinum” level games in their Top Sellers category below, but you can get the rest of the information here.

Platinum Games on Steam

• Rocket League
• The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt
• Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wild Lands
• ARK: Survival Evolved
• Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
• PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
• Divinity: Original Sin 2
• Grand Theft Auto V
• H1Z1
• Warframe
• DOTA 2

Note that only three of those games are listed as released during 2017. You can pick through additional data on Steamspy if your heart desires. You might be interested to see how much buzz some of these games are generating on YouTube, and the install rates. I was surprised to see Divinity topping a lot of the charts there, but that’s probably my bias against RPGs. (They’re not supposed to be popular…I jest!)

For sake of comparison, here’s the best selling software for 2017 according to Amazon. Note that a number of the slots were filled by PSN gift cards and other peripherals, so I note the overall rank in parenthesis. I’m pulling data from the top 20.

Best Sellers in 2017 on Amazon

• Super Mario Odyssey (third overall)
• Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (sixth overall)
• The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (seventh overall)
• Horizon Zero Dawn (fifteenth overall)
• Call of Duty WWII – PS4 (sixteenth overall)
• Call of Duty WWII – XONE (seventeenth overall)
• Splatoon 2 (twentieth overall)

As you can see, Nintendo made out quite well with the Switch. They’ve got four first party titles at the top. However, most of the “best sellers” were, in fact, PSN gift cards. It’s an indicator that the PS4 remains ascendant during this hardware generation.

Mobile games are a little harder to gauge due to the various monetization models in use. Not to mention that the available sales data for these apps is prohibitively expensive for a humble blogger like me. But I can tell you that it looks like Candy Crush Saga remained the top grossing mobile game in 2017, pulling in something like 2 million USD per day in revenue. That’s right, per day.

Anyway, congratulations to the big winners on their successful 2017.

Kojima on The Last Jedi

Not a strictly videogame related entry today. But since Kojima has been blogging more at Glixel, I thought some might be interested in what the auteur had to say about The Last Jedi. The latest Star Wars installment is polarizing to say the least. I feel no special animus toward it, in case you were wondering. But I can’t say The Last Jedi was my favorite entry in the saga. Beware of spoilers, if you haven’t seen the movie yet. And definitely beware of spoilers if you read the article. Anyway, here’s his thesis about Episode 8:

In Star Wars, anyone can be the hero. That’s what The Last Jedi tells us. It’s a new era, starting in a kingdom without a king.

There’s more at the link, including his lengthy explanation of how Revolutionary Star Wars was, and how Evolutionary the Sequel trilogy is turning out (and how that’s not a bad thing). But Kojima eventually hits the core issue with these new movies: the Star Wars universe is now Disneyfied. What Lucas had envisioned, and in large part executed, was theatrical spectacle. What Disney needed, and in large part succeeded in doing, was to turn his spectacle into a theatrical theme park. In any case, Lucas funded his box office extravaganzas with (at the time) a unique business model. That business model, which Kojima also comments on, need not change for Disney. Thankfully so, for them and their shareholders. In fact, you don’t spend all that money acquiring an IP like Star Wars to jettison the moneymaker. (Merchandising! Merchandising!) I realize that’s a cynical interpretation. But money answers for everything, doesn’t it?

I’m not equipped to analysis the social implications of The Last Jedi, as Kojima does. I am a little dubious about his claims regarding Lucas’ interpretation of the hero, and the “democratization” of the said role in The Last Jedi. This could be a whole post on its own, but beyond the scope of this gaming website. He does torture the comparison a bit to include video game heroes, but I’m also dubious of that.

This part was interesting to me though:

(As a bit of an aside, it is sometimes hypothesized that perhaps due to Metal Gear Solid 3′s position as a prequel and its focus on the birth of Big Boss, it was influenced by Star Wars. Darth Vader = Big Boss, or something like that. This is wrong. I was actually referencing the structure of Planet of the Apes and Stephen Hunter’s Swagger Saga.)

Guess we know that much now about Snake Eater!

Anyhow, there’s much more in his review, so if you’ve seen the movie and are curious for a second opinion, give it a glance. Or if you don’t plan to see the movie and want a more measured take than what we’ve been seeing lately.

 

 

Nintendo Switch at the end of 2017

Here we are, the penultimate post of 2017, and I’m going to talk about the Nintendo Switch and how it’s done this year. Here’s what I said, way back in March:

With the Switch it’s anybody’s guess as to how it will do. But for fun, I’m going to predict that Nintendo will ship 30 million units within its life cycle. And let’s say they ship about 3 million in 2017. For the record, analysts are predicting 35-55 million total units sold. Nintendo itself says it will be ship 5 million this year.

A few weeks ago, Nintendo issued a press release with the data of units sold this year. From Wccftech:

Nintendo just announced in a fresh press release to have sold 10 million units of the Nintendo Switch console worldwide since launch. Considering that the Switch debuted in March, an unusual month for console hardware releases, this is an impressive threshold to have surpassed in just nine months.

Note that’s twice as many as the company predicted. Apparently, the Switch is also the fastest selling console since the PS2.

There doesn’t seem to have been universal buzz, like what surrounded the Wii in 2006. But that may be because my visibility of the community and industry as a whole is kind of limited these days. A separate report though, again from Wccftech, says that Nintendo is now predicting 20 million units sold in 2018. That would put them at two-thirds of my prediction in the first 20 months. Nintendo may not have a world beater on their hands in the Switch, but they’re doing a lot better with this product than the Wii U.

As for the overall numbers for next year, as commentators have pointed out, there’s kind of a dearth of strong First Party titles next year. When’s the last time we had a Zelda title and Mario title out within seven months of each other? In other words, next year we’ll see how much real staying power the Switch has.

Still, congrats to the Big N on yet another successful hardware launch.

Thoughts on the CRYCASH ICO

A few days ago I caught wind that Crytek had partnered with Crycash for an initial coin offering (ICO) called CRYCASH. I’ve reviewed some of the media published on bigger outlets (VentureBeat, PC Gamer, etc), took a look at the team involved, and skimmed the white paper. I have not invested (speculated…) in any ICOs to date. While I’m not completely inexperienced in the financing world, I don’t know enough about ICO’s to be comfortable speculating in this space. That being said, I have some questions about Crycash. Since it’s touted as the first cryptocurrency designed specifically for gamers, I figure I’d look into it.

Here’s my disclaimer: don’t make any sort of money decisions based on what I’ve said here. This is strictly commentary, not advice. As with anything else, do your own research and talk to experts you trust (in this case preferably financial advisers experienced with this sort of thing) before you even think about putting your hard earned money into something risky like an ICO.

First and foremost, what need is there for Crycash? From the whitepaper and other sources, it appears one of the main goals is to increase ROI for developers by creating a blockchain for user engagements. That is, the developers use the integrated Crycash platform tools to create in-game tasks (or achievements, if you prefer) for gamers. The incentive for gamers is that they receive Crycash tokens in return, which they can then spend on in-game items or other content.  “Monetize your gameplay” is the motto here. Certainly this concept is not new, and I can’t determine from a brief look if there’s a need. As for developers and publishers, the problem with market fluctuations of crypto is a big issue for vendors who need to be able to rely on stable payments and transaction costs. Building a stable monetary ecosystem is obviously desirable toward that end.

Second, what about the team? The Crycash team is small but seems to have a few people experienced in digital payments space in the games space. So that’s good, as far as it goes. I took a peek at the github repository, and there were not many commits to date.  This is something I would like to see more of.

Third, partners. Crycash is teamed up with Crytek, and the founder is on their advisory board. Frankly I’m ambivalent about this. Sure, Crytek has made some great games. But the company has had its share of bad publicity and questionable stories for a while now (pirating software, failure to pay employees, lawsuit with Star Citizen, etc). While you can be the judge whether or not a partner’s reputation should affect the viability of the offering, Crytek’s name isn’t exactly sterling in my opinion.

They’ve got a roadmap that goes to the Q1 2019, and it includes gaining more partners and rolling out the app which most users will need to get involved in the platform. As of the time of this writing, they’ve distributed 139,000+ tokens (called CRC), priced out at 0.001 ether a token (Ethereum is currently priced at 700 USD). They have not revealed any caps yet which is a red flag to me. I’m not going to dig into the more technical aspects of the type of token or the distribution breakdowns (these are provided on the website if you want to look into it).

So for now, I’m holding off on getting into Crycash, though the concept is intriguing.