Category: Industry

US Vice President sees no legal problem with taxing violent games

Joe Biden

I have a lot of respect for US VP Joe Biden, but this was rather asinine of him. Speaking in a closed-door meeting with religious leaders over gun control, he said that “there’s no legal reason why” violent games couldn’t be taxed.

This comment was sparked when Reverend Franklin Graham proposed that companies which produce violent media—including games and movies—could be taxed, with the proceeds awarded to the victims of violent crimes.

While it’s an interesting proposal, I don’t think it’s fair on game studios. They’re only making entertainment products, and their job is not to supervise the behavior of the people. Similarly, movie studios are there to make money from their films and entertain people. In fact, the same argument can be applied to every other industry. The blame falls squarely on the people who carry out such violent crimes.

As a matter of fact, there have been several peer reviewed studies that have reported that there isn’t any direct causal link between violent media and violent actions. There are many other ways of diminishing violent crimes, including the oft-cited tougher laws on gun control.

BioShock Infinite sold much better than its predecessors, Take-Two still in the red

Bioshock_infinite_wallpapers_HD (1)

In what can only be considered to be not-a-surprise, Take-Two has announced that BioShock Infinite has sold significantly more copies in its first month than its predecessors in the series. In fact, more than 3.7 million copies of the excellent game has been shipped around the world, and there has apparently been “solid demand” for the game’s Season Pass, though no one really knows what DLC they’re going to get.

The publisher, however, isn’t doing so well. Despite having such big successes as BioShock Infinite, Borderlands 2, and NBA 2K13, the company finished the year with a net loss of $29.49 million. Interestingly, it’s better than last year, which saw a $108.82 million deficit.

As for its other successes, Borderlands 2 has shipped 6 million copies since its release, which puts it on track to be the publisher’s best-selling title; NBA 2K13 has shipped 5 million copies. No figures were revealed for Max Payne 3 and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, though both of them were critically acclaimed at release.

The publisher is looking to bank on the launch of GTA 5, which is due out later this year. It’s quite sad that Take-Two is still in the red despite having released so many good games. As a matter of fact, I’ve put countless hours into these games, as have many others, yet I don’t understand how such a publisher can still make a loss.

Konami posted year-on-year losses in 2013

Konami-Logo cropIt’s surprising to know that Konami has been posting year-on-year losses for the past couple of years as well as the past fiscal year. It just released details of its financial performance, and it doesn’t look good. The company’s revenue came down 15% from its earnings last year; its net income also decreased 42.8% when compared to last year.

Konami saw its biggest losses in the digital entertainment and pachinko divisions, especially the latter. In fact, the latter division’s income fell more than 70% while the former’s income fell 17.1%. The saving graces were Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Pro Evolution Soccer 2013, both of which boosted earnings.

All is not bad, though, as the publisher’s social gaming division posted growth. In fact, Metal Gear Solid Social Ops and Dragon Collection, both of which are operated in partnership with a Japanese social networking site, saw major growth. The company’s games now have over 35 million players worldwide.

Having said all this, what does it mean for Konami? The publisher has become increasingly reliant on Metal Gear titles over the past few years. A glance at its current portfolio reveals an alarmingly large number of Castlevania and MGS titles; all these are alongside tie-in games based on anime franchises. If they want to get out of this rut, they need to innovate and introduce new franchises. They also need to generate further interest in their current titles. Personally, I don’t see anything enticing other than Metal Gear Solid V and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.

Just Cause maker staying away from Wii U because of low user base and poor communication

christofer sundbergMany studios and publishers are shunning Wii U, Nintendo’s new console, simply because it’s not powerful enough. Crytek and DICE, both of whom engineer high-tech game engines, have stated outright that their games won’t be released on the console. You can now add Avalanche Studios to that list, but not for the same reason though.

Speaking to Press Fire (translated by The Escapist), studio founder Christofer Sundberg said that the platform’s low user base and poor communication on Nintendo’s part is causing them to forego developing for Wii U. “It’s a bit sad because we wanted to do something,” he said. “I think it’s a cool platform, but right now… we want the game to reach as many [gamers] as possible.”

Sundberg also talked about communicating with Nintendo, noting that the company has always been “difficult to reach.” He pointed out Sony’s approach, stating that their communication with studios has been clear and efficient and that their enthusiasm for the new console is palpable. Simply put, the same cannot be said for Nintendo.

I would have felt bad for Nintendo if the company wasn’t so resistant to change. Their online offering on the Wii was poor at best when compared to PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. They also thrive on gamers’ nostalgias by baking the same or same-ish games based on their past franchises. Also, the success of the Wii was based on a gimmick, which people are now becoming wary of.

Satoru Iwata, the company’s global president, has acknowledged the problem of Wii U sales, blaming it on consumer’s misconception of the new console as a peripheral for the Wii. He also said that the period of time between first-party game releases has been much longer than they expected.

Nintendo now faces an uphill battle when it comes to marketing the Wii U. I don’t know how they’re going to compete in the face of true next-generation hardware from Sony and Microsoft. I hope they survive because competition is always good for the industry. And also because I’d love to play more Mario!

Will Wright making a game about players’ lives: what does it mean?

Will-Wright-largeWill Wright is one of the most ambitious designers around right now. He’s famous for having made SimCity, The Sims, and Spore. These were great games that had lofty ambitions of simulating cities, lives, and even life itself. Now, the designer aims to bring “normal, everyday life” into games with his new IP.

Speaking at the Game Horizon conference in UK, Wright said that he wants to make games that are “extremely relevant to the player, and extremely unique to each individual.” This is interesting as it would involve connecting gamers’ lives with their games in an intricate manner that hasn’t been seen till now.

And that’s exactly what he intends to do: “build a game about the player, around the player’s life, around the things that they know, the places they go, the people they hang out with.” That sounds quite exciting to me, but I don’t think it’s going to be a very good one if it’s for computers and consoles.

He addresses that as well, noting that it’s going to be a “mobile-based experience” and that it’ll follow a very different economic model than SimCity, which has been plagued with EA’s irritable DRM.

The game seems like a great idea, but it also means giving up your privacy. All of your data would have to be given over to the game for it to work, and I don’t think many people are yet willing to do so unless the confidentiality of their data is guaranteed. There’s also the fact that to most people turning their life into a ‘game’ doesn’t sound appealing at all.

All that will hopefully be answered soon. Will Wright is expected to divulge more details in the coming months. His last game—Spore—was released back in 2008, so it’s about time he made a big comeback.

Warren Spector rants on new Wolfenstein game; asks why major games share similar style and tone

Writing on his Facebook page, acclaimed developer Warren Spector asked if the world “really need[s] another Wolfenstein game” in reference to the recently unveiled first-person shooter. “Did we need a generically dark, monochromatic, FPS, kill-the-Nazi-giant-robot game?” he wrote, adding that “No. The world did not. I am so tired of this.”

This outburst is in reference to the trailer for the game that depicts images of Nazi robots, guns, and violence. It all looks quite cool, though I can understand why Spector is so peeved by it: the sameness, the repetitiveness of it all.

He’s also quite taken aback by the voiceover: “Oh, and could we all just agree we’ll never use the generic gravelly whisper trailer voice guy ever again.” Well, that I can agree with, but I simply cannot get in line with this: “Please stop using Jimi Hendrix to promote your adolescent male power fantasies.” Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower” is played throughout the teaser for the game.

Spector—I have all the respect in the world for you, but please, Hendrix is awesome. Hendrix can stay.

He later added that he’s not blaming Wolfenstein: The New Order specifically, but that he’s tired of shooters. He is “sick of a particular look and tone… particular trailer narration style… and [I am] worried about the state of the core game business.”

Further onwards, he asks whether anyone is worried about the state of the industry right now. He notes the presence of the indies, adding that the major publishers are not interested in selling anything besides generic shooters, sports, and action-RPG games.

Although it sounds like a rant, and it truly is, Spector raises an interesting and valid point. Why is the industry so fixated on a particular style? Why does everything have to be flat and grey? The answer is: they sell. These games bring in big money, and that’s what publishers are here to do—make money. It may sound crass, but it’s true, and it’s something we all have to live by. It’s a business, and a very profitable business at that.

The reason why anyone isn’t taking risks is because they can be financial disasters. Even big-budget games like Tomb Raider and Dead Space 3 have been reported not to meet their targets. Surprisingly, these aren’t even risky titles with radically different tones and themes. These were regular, ordinary games that simply didn’t sell as well as their publishers hoped they would. And that raises the question: why would they risk their precious resources on “different” things? Sadly, they won’t, so we’re stuck with and excited by games like Wolfenstein, among others.

Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia creator fired from Ubisoft

Patrice-Désilets-1024x768For those of you who don’t know Patrice Desilets, I have two names for you: Assassin’s Creed and the modern Prince of Persia. These are the two major franchises that Desilets had started during his time at Ubisoft. He’s had quite a lot of success with games, so it’s quite surprising just how Ubisoft has treated him.

Desilets left Ubi in 2010 in what is described as “[taking] a creative break from the industry”. He then shifted to THQ’s Montreal studio where he was working on two projects—1666 and Underdog. However, the publisher soon went bankrupt, and Ubisoft had picked up the studio and its assets at an auction soon afterwards. Desilets found himself back at the company that apparently hated him.

This was confirmed by reports today that Ubisoft had terminated the developer. The publisher stated that there were “good faith discussions…aligning Patrice’s and the studio’s visions have been inconclusive.”

Desilets, however, tells a completely different story. He has angrily said that he was terminated by the company, adding that this was done in person and that he was “unceremoniously escorted out of the building by two guards without being able to say goodbye to my team or collect my personal belongings.”

That sounds like a poisonous relationship to me. Desilets adds that he intends to fight Ubisoft regarding his termination and his game and that he will “survive”.

This whole situation sounds strange to me. Desilets spearheaded two of the most successful franchises Ubisoft has ever seen. Both of these series sold millions of copies and introduced memorable characters with strong gameplay and graphics. It’s strange that they’d terminate such a valuable asset to their team in such a rash manner.

BioWare learned lessons from Mass Effect 3


Mass Effect 3, despite being critically acclaimed and liked by gamers, faced a severe backlash due to its ending. There was a lot of debate regarding the ending, but BioWare had eventually kneeled to the fans by releasing extended versions of the game’s three endings. This was an industry first, and it’s still seen as an intrusion into artistic license by many.

Keeping all this in mind, BioWare learned a lot of lessons, and they’re going to heed them for their future titles. Casey Hudson, the game’s executive producer, noted how they had “underestimated how attached people [had] become to the characters.” He adds that the excellent Citadel DLC was born out of the desire to respect this love.

“We’d never imagined that as we ended the trilogy, all people would want to do was spend more time with the characters, sort of bathing in the afterglow—getting closure and just having some time to live in the universe that they fought to save,” he said. “This, and many other learnings, will be built into our future games.”

This sentiment is echoed by producer Mike Gamble, who commented that fans’ feelings about the characters were “just as strong as [BioWare’s]”.

As it stands right now, BioWare has only hinted that the next installment in the series is in the works. The company has recently been gauging interest in various aspects like timeline and multiplayer, so it remains to be seen what the future holds for us.

Awesome: Valve experimenting with sweat and eye tracking

Motion control or virtual reality—where does the future lie? As it stands, Valve is experimenting with other technologies, including biometrics. Speaking at the NeuroGaming Conference and Expo last week, experimental psychology Mark Ambinder revealed that the studio is testing sweat and eye tracking in their games.

Sweat tracking is being used to figure out how excited players are in a game. Ambinder noted that they’re plugging the data in to Left 4 Dead 2 to provide more information to its AI director. He also added that the studio ran an experiment where players had to shoot 100 enemies. If they grew nervous or excited, the game’s speed would be adjusted, making it harder or easier.

As for eye-tracking, Ambinder noted that they’ve made a version of Portal 2 that could make use of eyes for movement since we can move them much faster than we move hands. Apparently, it worked well, though they still have to work on separating aiming from movement.

He further added that biofeedback can also take in other factors such as heart rate, facial expression, brain waves, body temperature, pupil dilation, and other such features to help improve matchmaking and spectacting. More importantly, Valve may potentially use all this during playtesting to further improve their future games.

The last bit sounds great to me. When you think about it, if Valve can get consistent results on whether a section of a game is boring or exciting, they can tailor it further to exploit its potential. This can be a breakthrough in game design or even gameplay if the technology becomes cheap and user friendly enough. It’s a very exciting time for gamers.

Ecco the Dolphin creator talks about Kickstarter failure


Ecco the Dolphin was an interesting game, but it doesn’t have a large fanbase as one would expect it to have. That may explain why its spiritual successor, The Big Blue, bombed on Kickstarter. Ed Annunziata, the game’s creator, recently sat down with Eurogamer to discuss his crowd funding failure and the project in greater detail.

Annunziata noted that despite the game selling millions of copies, he couldn’t get anyone in Sega to take him seriously, which was one of the reasons why making a sequel was so difficult. Despite his failure on Kickstarter, Annunziata suggested that he might have done things differently now if he could. “The right way to do it is to… just shut up and don’t explain anything—just show it,” he said.

“If I was a time traveler, what I would do is take The Big Blue from the future, bring it back and have a 15-second video where I introduce myself and say ‘hey take a look at this’ and then just show it,” he added. “And then it would get funded.”

Those are brave words, but I don’t think that’s how business truly works. He acknowledges that, too, saying that he could have made a better pitch.

“I did a lousy job, my message was lousy, my rewards were lousy,” he said. Despite all this, he’s not discouraged at all. He hopes to make the game one day, “baby steps” and all.