Tag Archives: Stuart Dredge

What did you expect?

This all started with an article in the Guardian last December, in the air of ‘it was a day plus one before Santa‘, the title ‘Game shares fall 40% after profit warning‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/dec/23/game-shares-fall-40-percent-after-profit-warning-xbox-one-ps4). You see, none of this should be a surprise to anyone. When we look today we see all these ‘what will come in 2016‘ articles (read: multiple) and that is JUST the Guardian, not even a serious gaming source. Another article kicks of one of its paragraphs with ‘E3 WILL BRING SURPRISES‘ and then it reverts to the mundane “This year, we can expect Nintendo’s new machine and plenty of VR games but, beyond that, little is known. And that’s just how we like it“, if that is so, then why waste space on it in January whilst that event is 22 weeks away. Ignoring the event for no less than 10 weeks would not have been out of place. That article ends with ‘A YEAR OF BIG GAMES‘, where we see the quote “but most exciting for gamers are the big sequels“, with several mentions of games that had been delayed from 2015. What they all forget is an element the mentioned article will give you.

So let us take a look!

The subtitle is as good a place as any to start. It states ‘Gamers failed to buy enough games for new consoles to make up for a steep fall in demand for older formats‘, so how about giving the reality of the games which means the subtitle should have been ‘Game developers fail to deliver quality, they failed in many cases on delivering on time, some delayed until 2017, creating a new level of gaming uncertainty‘ that subtitle would have been on point. Assassins Creed is one of those titles, Unity failed massively, the reason for mentioning it is because Syndicate did not become the success it could have been mainly because of Unity. A game that used to be sold out on special editions is now getting flogged for $50 including art book, statue, extra missions and soundtrack. A game sold at 33% of the initial value, new in box. Yes, I give you right now that Syndicate does not deserve to be regarded as a failure, but it remains a non-success. It still has an amount of glitches and issues that go back all the way to brotherhood, they have never been addressed. Mass NPC issues remain and the list goes on, yet again, the graphics department delivered, sound delivered too. There are in mission issues, yet for the most they did work OK, in a few cases they were actually decently brilliant. Yet in all this the NPC issues rose. For example, I can get attacked and the police does not act. I pull a knife and they all start shooting, even in my own (read: liberated) areas. The fact that they act on me is one thing, the fact that they do not act against my attackers is another thing. It becomes even more a joke when a fellow Rook NPC keeps on pulling his knife against my kidnap target alerting the police who now has a go at me too, all scripted screw ups that were not addressed. Yet overall the latest AC is not a failure, in the same light that I placed the Ubisoft business model in the past, planning for non-failure also means that you will never get an exceptional success. Perhaps Ubisoft will catch on at some point (one would hope, would one not?)

But this is not about Ubisoft, they are just one element in a group of many.

The quote: “However, independent retail analyst Nick Bubb said he was “staggered” by Game’s profit warning after John Lewis boasted of strong sales of computer games earlier this week. “We had just begun to wonder if Game Digital might be a good recovery stock,” he said. The department store said gaming and console sales were up 180% in the week to 19 December, picking them out as one of its Christmas bestsellers“, but based on what was this? Special in house deals with 2 games? Places like EB Games are offering new 1TB consoles with 4 or 5 games that is quite the Christmas pick. Oh and what are the numbers? When you normally sell 10 consoles 180% really does not amount to that much. I would think that Nick Bubb would have done his homework a little more meticulously, or perhaps staggering was a factor after he learned that £2290 is not something that gives price to 180% (I am not saying that I know their sales numbers, but I am asking why no one else is making a clear investigation there). And on what margins are those placed? A £299 console is one thing, one with 3 games at £279 is a good deal for the buyer, but it equally means it is a product without margin for the shops.

Yet the big UK player Game should have known that this issue is a lot more clear, so the statement “Game said a 20% rise in sales of games for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 had not offset a 57% slump in sales of older Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games” is a mere given, something they should have known going into the holiday season. You see, many big titles have been delayed, what was coming before Christmas is now coming in March and in a few cases in April. Big titles have not been the success they were supposed to be and in all this So when another article in the Guardian one day later reports “According to the industry body Ukie, sales of new boxed console games in the UK fell 6.3% in 2014 to £935m, and were overtaken by the 17.6% rise in sales of digital console and PC games to £1.05bn“, we should ask the question that Stuart Dredge might have been trying to hide within the text. The issue is “The Steam Winter Sale has gone live today, Dec. 22nd, and runs until January 4th“, yes ‘in sales of digital console and PC games‘ translates to Steam sales for PC games, a place where games were down by 50%, in several cases even down by 80%, so as many game shops have a non-return or exchange policy for PC games (which does make perfect sense), people are happy to download a few 4GB packages (in some cases not more than 2) and store that on their multi-Terabyte drives and the list included discounted games like Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid 5 and Just Cause 3. So, when we know this, the ‘staggered’ response by Nick Bubb comes across as extremely insincere. Perhaps he did not do his homework? How can a person in that field not be up to date as to what Steam does and how that impact the shops, you see Steam has done this before, so it can’t have been that unexpected.

In that same issue we have places like Game and EB Games. In some cases they rely on fans who want their new upcoming Dark Souls 3 (the apocalypse edition) and that game will likely sell out in mere minutes, yet the dangers when a shop is losing space to a stack of Charing Cross editions, because the previous version was so bad is in equal measure not that weird a surprise.

There is still one other part that links to this. You see, we all play the way we can, some only play the way that they can afford and Microsoft has been dubious in several actions, the issues now arising from the Windows 10 update give more towards the fear that at the earliest moment Microsoft will close the valve on ‘pre-owned’ games, a side people rely upon because the average working family no longer has a spare £50 for a new game. Hell, most people in London are hard pressed to have £50 for simple things like food, so how is the drop in revenue such a big mystery?

The UK (as well as many other places on this world) have been dealing with a sliding cost of living crises. It has been around for 2 years and too many people are ignoring this fact, in any normal household games will be the first one to vanish from any budget consideration, which gives rise to the growing need of places like Steam, because between no gaming and playing a game 2 years old at £5, people usually tend to know what to do. The interesting side is that many of those games do not need the latest hardware, actually, those steam consoles will support the bulk of those games on high quality settings, so the Nextgen consoles are losing their footing, a fact that someone like Nick Bubb should have been aware of straight of the bat.

Are you still confused?

Open your wallet, consider your bank account (your present balance) and now go to any gaming store and get a new game. How many of you will actually do that? As I see it, 40% cannot afford it, 60% does not want to do this because they either do not care for games (which is fair enough), they have other bills to pay (which is fair enough too), or they are waiting for one of those delayed games, because they can only afford a game 3-4 times a year. These are given situations for well over 80% of the people in the UK, in addition it is a similar size in most of the EEC nations, so why exactly are we surprised on these sliding scales? I cannot answer why many readers are surprised (many might be genuinely surprised), but we should ask a few serious questions when retail gurus like Nick Bubb are absent in comprehension. In that case we should be asking a few other questions.

And games are not out of the woods yet, not for the near immediate future. Yes, most of us will run towards No Man’s Sky the day it is released (in around 22 weeks), but consider how we as gamers (millions of us) find fun and joy in a $20 game named Minecraft, or on the Tablets on a $5 game named Blockheads, how long until the analysts are catching on the hyped inflated games galore for PC and next gen is a massive marketing mesh that is short term, based upon a turnover need from the initial 21 days of release? We will always want games like Skyrim, Fallout 4, GTA, Diablo 3 and a few others, but that list is a lot shorter than those marketeers will admit to and the large players remain in denial. Hoping on a new shooter online where people do nothing more that run and ‘super jump’ on all levels like it was the first version of Unreal Tournament. How long until that gets boring and old? The remake Doom might be the first one that infuses life into that group, a mere original gems in a mountain of too many fake crystals.

Yes, we will see a few games we all want, we will see games that we thought we wanted because as games developers rely on hype, they are equally extremely unwilling to give out review copies until AFTER the game is released, because it would hurt numbers and the press at large (the real one and the gaming press) tends to be too often in need of advertisers to actually do something about it.

Finally we get back to Ubisoft, but now for very different reasons. You see, they are offering something called a ‘humble bundle’, which one place stated costed $1. I cannot verify this, but the offer (regardless of price) includes:

  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas
  • Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Chaos Theory
  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon
  • Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist ($10 or more)
  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier ($10 or more)
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2
  • Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
  • Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction
  • Beta access to The Division

One source implies that the price is open, but if you paid a few bucks more (like $11) you got a few additional beauties. I was never a Rainbow Six fan, but a huge Splinter cell fan and even only those games at $11 is an impressive deal, so when you consider this, when you see that PC gamers are offered a steamy steam life with excellent not so new games, in a price range that most people could afford, how is the 40% drop in shares of Game still a mystery?

The gaming world is in an uproar, because they did not tap the vein of quality when they should, they did not press forward for true non-annual innovation when they could, leaving marketing to make the call on hype, instead of truly addressing their fan base needs. An expensive mistake that has led to the downfall of the biggest players (EA and Ubisoft), gamers are realising more and more that indie developers will bring what they desire, a great gaming experience; and only now is the press at large considering that the need of advertisement revenue and the need of their readers base is not aligned, the question becomes how will this be addressed?

I do know that when the press is relying on a ‘staggered’ Nick Bubb for gaming, too many people might be looking in the wrong direction.

 

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Building Social gaming

Yes, this is about games, about video games specifically. There are two sides to the current article we see in the Guardian (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/mar/16/roblox-minecraft-user-generated-gaming). The first one is the entire ‘for kids’ approach.

Well, that part I am smitten with, you see, games should be to a decent extent to get the next generation into technology. To get them to know how to get by, how to interact and how to properly use technology. Like any skill, a child starts with crawling, moves to walking, soon we see tricycles, bicycles and more advanced options for movement. We have puzzles for the mind, whether jigsaw or other. Even though these options are falling to the back more and more, it is the threshold of technology that will help them move forward and move forward faster. Nintendo has always been a champion in this matter. As it catered to the younger player and to the family game environment, Nintendo had a niche. PC’s have for a long time remained far behind, because the revenue to cater to a less young population was forever more appealing. Even though most will see Minecraft as a provider here, Roblox has been around a lot longer.

Now that Microsoft dished out 2 billion and spare change for Minecraft, Roblox is hoping to see an influx of cash in their market as well, and why not?

Yet now we hit the part that is a little (just a little) cause for concern:

“In December, we hit 4.7 million players. The foundation of Roblox is user-generated content: just like on YouTube there is so much to watch, on Roblox there is so much to play,” says Baszucki” as well as “People get really attached to it: many of our players have played for four to five years, and our developers range in age from eight to 80. Some of the top developers are 18 or 20, and we have kids in high-school who are making two, three or four thousand dollars a month“.

You see, where do they get that money from? More important, who is paying for these ‘costs’?

Well the article explains that as well: “How? By creating 3D games on Roblox’s website, then sharing them to be played online, as well as on iOS, Android and Kindle Fire devices. The money comes from the in-game currency, “Robux”, bought by players to spend within games, and then exchanged for real money again by those games’ developers“.

Is that a problem? Well, no not directly, as I see it, Roblox is all about creativity, yet some things must be bought. So their currency sets 400 Robux at $5 (for builders it is 450 for the same price), making a Robux around a cent (1.25 to be more exact), which might not be a biggie and 10,000 for $100 (15000 for developers), which makes a Robux $0.01, even less for developers. But what does it get you? More important, if some ‘developers’ get 5000 a month, how much money is exchanging hands here? Well, when you become a member of the Outrageous Builders Club and you have in excess of 100,000 Robux and a valid PayPal as well as a verified email address, you could qualify, if you successfully signed up for the Devex program. The last one seems to be set up to prevent phishing, falsehood and a few other markings. This all seems on the up and up. The exchange is 100,000 for $250. That comes down to 0.25 cents to the Robux, which gives the makers of Roblox a 4 to 1 profit. Now we get back to the very first paragraph “Some of our top developers are starting to get about a quarter of a million dollars a year. They’re treating it literally as a career, and starting to hire their friends…”, so how many Robux did that income make?

Now, this is supposed to be about the games and gaming design, which I do not oppose, so when I see the line ‘we have kids in high-school who are making two, three or four thousand dollars a month‘, meaning that they sold R$800K, R$1.2M, R$1.6M. At 4 to one that works out pretty spiffy for the makers, but is no one asking the question, how much money are your children sinking into this game that is the question! Even though much is clearly stated by the people behind it and even though we see “Roblox is free to play, but to get Builders Club which gives you more features“, we soon see that the smallest club is already $6 a month, making this a $70+ a year enterprise, which might not be bad, but everything costs in this game, from hats (that are seen as a status symbol as I personally see it) and there are more parts to all this, so when I saw the ‘promise of income’ as the article seems to imply, my question to Stuart Dredge becomes: ‘How deep did you look into the article you wrote?’ There is another side to the cash thing that was also not mentioned, The Roblox people had relief fund drives, which means that buying a hat (red, Blue, Rising sun) and for every hat sold, Roblox donated to relief funds for Haiti, Red Cross, the Tsunami efforts, so there is also a social drive towards good causes and this game ended up sending thousands upon thousands of dollars fuelled by the people getting the hat to be socially aware. That is a very good thing, especially as this is an environment driven largely towards the ‘less adults’ (small citizens usually younger than 18).

So, am I lashing out at the makers of Roblox? No, not really, they seem to be clear about the options and about the costs, and people can start with a free account, one world and the choice to continue if it is their kind of world. This is all fair, but do the parents realise what happens when these kids sign up for more? Perhaps they do, but do they realise the added price tag? You see, that might all be fair and good and it is important to note that Roblox shows nearly all the information openly and clearly. They have no traps in there. The only paragraph touching on this is “A platform with lots of children playing and a growing number of games using in-app purchases? It sounds like a recipe for controversy, especially with the US Federal Trade Commission poking around in the affairs of Amazon, Apple and now Facebook over children’s in-app spending“. I think the paragraph is much too meager and other elements are not looked at (as I showed in my earlier part).

There is also a second side to Roblox. A side we all ignored unless we actively dug into it ourselves. You see, I was around when Atari had STOS, Amiga has AMOS and when we saw the growth of Little Big Planet one, two and three. We all think we are future game developers. I played with some of the demos and was able to change a few things get some things rolling, but overall, no matter how good my insight, you need creativity and vision. Roblox is giving tools to the makers to address their creativity, but what about vision? Well, I got my parts done in the builder of Neverwinter Nights, and the best result was making an actual adventure for the Commodore-64. The last part was done by a set of articles that were published in a magazine called ‘Computer and Video Games (CVG)‘ in the mid 80’s. I learned so much from those articles.

Here we see the power of these tools, which brings out vision and creativity through patience and persistence. When a parent realises this part and that a game like Roblox could empower these two elements, then spending $72 a year is a steal at twice the price. Whether this results in making some actual cash, or just makes the maker break even with the costs involved, the last one would be worth it all because whatever they make now, will shape the power of innovation down the line. Kids (adults too) could go through life never realising the power that creating innovation brings.

It is the last paragraph that matters: “Ultimately, games that start to look like high-end CGI movies. And companies are starting to realise that this user-generated content segment could be bigger than any individual games company. There’s so much leverage from being a platform rather than a content producer, where every few years you need a new huge property”. There is a truth and a hidden untruth here, the games that look like high end movies come at a large cost for the player, when we see $100 games that give us no more than 10 hours, we see that a move towards sandbox games are definitely worth it, because the overwhelming difference that value for money gives the player, yet the failed attempt we see in games like Assassins Creed Unity, a game released last November, that is still receiving patches (at http://www.designntrend.com/articles/40441/20150218/assassins-creed-unity-ps4-xbox-one-patch-release-ubisoft-gameplay-graphics-multiplayer-glitches.htm). By the way, personally as I see it, when we see the quote “patch 1.05 goes a long way towards promoting ‘stability and performance’ in the latest entry to the annualized franchise“, I mention this for two reasons, the first is that high end games, when not properly supervised could become the end of any software house, the second reason is that the Assassins Creed Wikia calls it a “Assassin’s Creed: Unity is a 2014 sandbox action adventure game“, trust me that any reference to Assassins Creed being a ‘sandbox game’ is like comparing a Ford Edsel to a Bentley, Minecraft being the Bentley that is.

So as we see Roblox and Minecraft as the growing community towards the sandbox loving gamers, I see a win-win situation. You see, I remain a fan of RPG games, these games propel the interest and the desire for RPG games and as such, I will win as better RPG games are released.

So as we consider the subtitle where we see that Roblox is an environment of 4.7 million people, focusing on growth, we can see that Roblox has a future as it focuses on all devices and Cloud based usage. The only danger I see now is that they might try to grow too fast in too many directions. There might be a comparison to Minecraft, but not in the user base, because Minecraft has over 100M users registered on PC and well over 50 million copies sold on consoles. Roblox could grow faster and larger, but as I see it, it will have to offer more to the free player, as I see it by adding 2 worlds and adding those option to have more options for free. It would be fair enough to make those free players earn these options to be unlocked in some way, but as the starting player is reeled in through the growth of options and interactions, so will their eagerness in becoming a premium member. It is that growth curve that Roblox will need, because no matter how proud they are with their 4.7 million players, if they want to attract bigger business they will need to do more than just double their current base, in addition, as the article shows a drive for makers to ‘make’ money, we need to also consider (in all fairness) that in the end, it must be looked at how much currency is transacted in and how this is broken down in user population (especially the age group based demographics). As I stated before Roblox has been on the up and up in this regard, but their continuation will require a massive jolt towards value for money, because that will drive growth faster and a lot more profound.

 

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