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.

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.

On the Switch Lifecycle

IGN reports on the recent Nintendo Investor call that the venerable game maker plans to keep the Switch around for longer than the 5-6 year window. Not a big shocker, given the huge success of their latest console. From the post:

“Up until now, the hardware lifecycle has trended at around five or six years, but it would be very interesting if we could prolong that life cycle, and I think you should be looking forward to that.”

Miyamoto also touched on plans for their “marketing strategy… to instill a desire to purchase Nintendo Switch among a wide consumer base” all around the world, citing the portability of the console as its “biggest attraction.”

That shouldn’t be a big problem for them. But I do wonder what that means for the 3DS platform. Some fourteen years ago one of my good friends observed they (Nintendo) “make handhelds now.” Meaning, of course, the handheld market was their only viable space to operate in. The Wii was the farthest thing from anybody’s mind in 2004 (remember Revolution?) but he had a point.

How will the Switch hold up against the next round of so-called “core” systems in the 2019-2020 cycle? The “play anywhere” mantra is going well for them, but as always the devil will be in the games. 2017 will go down in their history as one of the strongest years for first party games. What’s in the pipe beyond Metroid Prime 4 for the U.S. audience? I sense some more exclusivity coups coming in the future.

Anyway, we’ll see what happens. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day!

 

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.

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.

Super Mario Odyssey

I finally got Super Mario Odyssey over the holidays, and for the first time in a while, I’m giving my Switch a workout.  The word on the street, of course, is that Super Mario Odyssey is the finest Mario game in a long while. So while I make my way through this 3D world adventure with our favorite plumber, here’s a list of links I’ve curated about the game.

Technical Breakdown via DigitalFoundry

A 12 minute video in which DigitalFoundry breaks down the technical aspects of the game. Including all you wanted to know about the game’s resolution, frame rate, draw distances, and how it performs in docked vs. portable mode. If there’s a pull quote, it’s this: “[Super] Mario Odyssey is another feather in Nintendo’s cap. It’s one of the most inspired Mario games in years and it runs like a dream.”

 

What Designers Are Saying via Gamasutra

Gamasutra took it upon itself to get brief comments from 25 designers shortly after Super Mario Odyssey came out. Words and phrases you’ll see repeated throughout: joy, perfect balance, nostalgia, gameplay variety, and of course, love. Checkout the game localization comparison linked to in the piece as well.

MetaCritic Score

At the time of this writing: universal acclaim from the critics, as you might expect, and a “generally favorable” 8.9 user score based on 2600 reviews. Peruse what everybody is saying here.

Super Mario Odyssey Speedrun

Here’s an impressive hour long spreedrun done by Samaru1man:

Super Mario Odyssey Moveset Analysis

For those interested in Mario’s controls – always an important aspect in these games – here’s a brief analysis on reddit.

I’ll have more to say about Super Mario Odyssey in the coming days. According to How Long to Beat, the main quest takes roughly 11 hours to finish, while a Completionist can expect to spend 55-60 hours in the game. That sounds about right to me. I’ve just arrived at the Wooded Kingdom, so I have a ways to go myself. But I’m enjoying the ride.

No Microtransactions for Obsidian

Obsidian posted a brief note on its blog the other day, making the company’s position on microtransactions clear:

What we did want to talk about was a question a lot of you have been raising: “Will this upcoming game feature any lootboxes or other microtransactions?”

The answer is simply: “no.” No microtransactions, of any kind, in our game.

This comes on the heels of the news about a new project to be published by Private Division, a brand that falls under the Take-Two umbrella.  It’s good to know, though, that not everyone has embraced the games as a service model. Game Informer has the full story about Private Division, and I recommend you read it. It goes in depth on the founders’ philosophy, along with some familiar faces.

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.

PSVR In-Home Program at Max Capacity

Back on December 4, Gamasutra reported on Sony’s new PSVR “in home” program. Limited to 1400 PlayStation+ members, participants would receive a VR headset, the PS Camera, two Move controllers, and Skyrim VR. As you probably guessed from the headline, the program is already booked up. No word when it will open again. But I wonder what the move suggests about user adoption rate of PSVR. From the piece:

While it’s hard to say how many trials will translate into sales right off the bat, the program’s early momentum bodes well for overall interest in console VR.

I find it counterintuitive to offer a freebie demo on such a small basis; how much can they really learn about potential adoption rate from 0.005% of their PS+ userbase? Over a million PSVR headsets have been shipped in less than a one-year time frame. That’s seemingly good news for the platform, but maybe it’s not enough.

I’ll follow this story, and see if I can gain any insight.

Michael Condrey Interview with PlayStation LifeStyle

Sledgehammer Games co-founder Michael Condrey sat down with PlayStation LifeStyle at the recent CWL Dallas event and shared some of his insights about the Call of Duty brand and the industry. I thought this part was interesting:

Call of Duty definitely has some of the most vocal fans. Since its the most popular series, how do you deal with all that feedback. You have millions of players tweeting at you, which I’m sure you appreciate, but I have to imagine that can be overwhelming.

You know it’s a really fascinating question, and you’re right that sometimes the volume of feedback is maybe our greatest gift. We have a very passionate fanbase, and they love to stay engaged and tell us what they think. Because there are so many voices, they don’t all agree. When we’re looking at the objective data, not the subjective feedback, but what’s happening in the game, we use a lot of match data. [We] have millions of points of data around weapon balance, time-to-kill, and good spawns. So, we have a lot of objective data.

When it comes to subjective data, and what people think they want and are asking for. When you have that many voices, you’re not going to make everyone happy. Even if you’re making nine out of ten people happy with every decision you make, that tenth person will feel like you’re not listening. For us, we want fans to know that we spend a ton of time on social, on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and our forums. We’re collecting that feedback and do our best to address it while also staying true to our vision of the game.

Constructive feedback is always the best. We value it when people reach out and are earnest with what they want in a way that’s helpful, but even when it’s not as constructive, we know it comes from a place of passion. The fans want the best game, and sometimes they have a harder time articulating that in a way that is easy for us to hear, but the team knows deep down inside that we have the most passionate fanbase out there.

So, the hard part becomes “what do we react to?,” and how quickly you react to feedback. Sometimes our vision or the match data doesn’t support the ask, so we have to do a good job of communicating why that change would happen. I love that we have that fanbase, and that they’re engaged and passionate. Hopefully they see that the studio is equally engaged in this conversation.

Call of Duty has always been ripe ground for data-driven game design, and here Condrey lays his philosophy out for us. Distinguishing between objective data and subjective data is probably harder than he makes it sound. How to correlate all that user feedback with what you’re actually seeing in the game is no small feat. Regardless of how you feel about the franchise, from a data perspective that’s impressive.

Read the rest of the interview here.

For more information on CWL (Call of Duty World League) check out the official page.