Tag Archives: Gaming

A Monopoly Crumbles: Distribution in the Video Game Sector

A monopoly is crumbling. This isn’t a monopoly over oil or diamonds, but over video game distribution. Steam, the king of distributing video games, is being challenged by multiple competitors.

Video GameSteam is the largest computer video game distributor in the world with 125 million active users. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately, Steam is relatively unchallenged in the world of distribution. Sure, platforms like EA’s Origin and Blizzard’s Battlenet are alternatives, but they are only used for a select amount of games each company has acquired. Steam has tens of thousands of titles.

While Steam does have a positive overall reputation in the video game world, they could still use some competition. It’s not good for the consumers to be forced to depend on one service for distribution.

As pretty much everyone knows, monopolies aren’t a good thing. Steam’s position allows it a lot of power in pricing its games, and unchecked bargaining power because the sellers can’t go anywhere else to sell their PC game effectively.

But now all of that is changing.

Video Game Last April, the video game company known as Tencent announced that it was going to rebrand its online services to create a platform where users may buy and play games. This will be a platform nearly identical to Steam. Tencent is calling their new platform WeGame.

Tencent may be an unfamiliar name to some, but their products are big, and they are a huge brand in China. The own both Riot Games (League of Legends) and Supercell (Clash of Clans).

League of Legends alone is significant as it is the most popular video game on the market. Clash of Clans has a strong following as well. Additionally, Tencent has significant stakes in Activision Blizzard and Epic Games, two major studios in the video game world.

Most importantly, it is estimated that Tencent has 200 million active users, thanks to China and the Asian Market.

Video Game The new platform was officially released September first about two months ago. Here’s the link to their slick new platform. Now there is one noticeable problem with Tencent’s platform; you need to speak Chinese.

Despite Tencent being a “global game distributor,” there is no non-Chinese version yet. It has only been out two months, and Tencent has promised to bring it to as many countries as possible, but for now English users will have a hard time using the platform.

Despite the lack of an English version, China’s market alone is enough to challenge Steam. Things will only get worse for Steam as they will be in more trouble once WeGame can effectively hit American market as well as others. But WeGame isn’t the only competitor Steam may have to worry about.

Twitch announced several months ago that it would be selling games via Twitch. It is clear that Amazon, Twitch’s parent company, wants a slice of the market. Twitch’s offer is unique as well since it will give its Streamers a piece of the revenue earned off the purchase, which will encourage the Streamers to positively influence other users to buy from Twitch.

Video Game The rise of Twitch is an interesting development, and one that shows no signs of stopping. Similar to how YouTubers have become famous and wealthy due to their videos, Twitch Streamers are starting to do the same thing. Viewers on Twitch can now buy the game that their favorite Streamer plays, and that Streamer gets a cut of the profits, which actively encourages Streamers to promote the games they play.

This method of advertisement has been effective in the last few months that Twitch began selling games. Twitch has doubled its library of games and partnered with more game companies. If this pattern continues, they could easily become a significant threat to Steam.

It is unlikely that Steam, or its parent company Valve, will simply fall apart and disappear. However, it is likely that Steam will have to deal with some serious competition. WeGame and Twitch are already threatening Steam’s grip on the market. More competition is good for the market and consumers, so this is welcomed. It looks like another monopoly will be a thing of the past.

-Sam King

Switching Up How to Catch Them All

Since 1980 Nintendo has held a monopoly on handheld gaming.  From the Gameboy Color all the way to the New Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo has had minimal competition in this market.  With the release of the Nintendo Switch on March 3, 2017 many questions have arisen.  Being the world’s first “hybrid console”, since it’s both handheld and a console that can be played through the television, it really shakes up the world of gaming.  Having the New Nintendo 3DS and the Switch can possibly result in Nintendo competing with itself and causing self-cannibalization.  So, what’s the next move for them?

SwitchA lot of 3DS owners only have them to play one of the world’s most famous and profitable franchises, Pokémon.  Game Freak, the developer behind Pokémon, has recently announced that Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, released on November 17, 2017, would be the last main title released for the New 3DS.  All games after that will be released on the Nintendo Switch.  In my opinion, this may not be the most profitable at first, but it will be in the future.

SwitchThere are several reasons why I believe that it will not be profitable right away.  The original price point of the New Nintendo 3DS was $199.99 and the price of the Nintendo Switch is $300.  That doesn’t sound so bad, except for the fact that the New Nintendo 3DS only has a resale value of $60.  That doesn’t put a huge dent in the cost of buying a Switch.  In the first 3 months the Switch sold 4.7 million units, while the New Nintendo 3DS sold 4.3 million units in the first 3 months.

Nintendo moving everything over to the Switch has its advantages and disadvantages.  Obviously, the graphics would be way better on the Switch.  The Switch also has a much better multiplayer interface than the 3DS.  The Switch has also been experiencing some problems that might make people not want to buy it right away.  There have been multiple cases of the controllers (joy-cons) not connecting to the system.  Also, the charging points have not worked for many Switch owners.  There have even been some cases of Switches not turning on.

Switch

How is Nintendo going to handle this switch?  They could do some kind of trade-in deal for 3DSs’ for more money.  Nintendo could also just count on 3DS players to splash out the cash and switch to the switch.  Another probable thing is for them to just discontinue 3DS games.  So what do you think?  The switch over sounds messy but will it be worth it in the end?

 

-Mitch Diamond

Sony v. Microsoft: The Console Wars

Over the course of the 2000s, two major companies have been competing for the attention of the serious gamer. The Xbox and the PlayStation consoles have both been integral to the advancement of not just gaming technology, but the driving force behind a few technological advancements. Sony’s PlayStation series has been known as the go-to console for most serious gamers, while Xbox focuses on being the all-in-one console. The different advertising strategies often attract different people, but with advancements in modern day systems, the main differences will be the exclusives and aesthetics.

ConsoleThe first iteration of PlayStation came out in the late 1990s, and stayed the leading console for many years. For the longest time, Sony had no competition, that is until the early 2000s when Microsoft released their flagship console, Xbox. Over the course of the next couple of years the two companies would start to sync up their release dates and start a pattern of pumping out new consoles. Every 5-6 years a new console is released but within those years are mid-cycle upgrades. For the two companies, they release a slim, and then a slightly more upgraded version (in terms of processing power) around a year later.

ConsoleOne key problem faced with these consoles is future proofing. When a new console is sent out every year there isn’t much room for improvement. Many people won’t buy a new system unless there is a significant change. With the introduction of Project Scorpio Microsoft aimed to create a system that would be one of the most powerful. With boasted true 4k gaming Microsoft’s current console, the Xbox One X, has the most powerful processor to date. As well as this they have made their newest console backwards compatible all the way to the original Xbox. Their mission is to make console gaming comparable if not better than computers.

PlayStation’s main focus is a little more different than Xbox’s, where Xbox focuses more on graphics, PlayStation focuses on content. Overall both consoles have good exclusive games, but PlayStation can brag about having a higher percentage of high reviews on their games. Sony’s newest upgrade to the PS4 is the PS4 Pro. This console says it has a 4k experience, but in all actuality it uses a process called supersampling . This process can lower the frame rate of a game, which is very bad when dealing with games that require quick responses. However, Sony’s PlayStation VR is one of the leading headsets in terms of gaming graphics. So much so that they have said they don’t want to advance any farther than they are now, so as to not scare away future competition. When asked about the future of VR in their consoles, Microsoft simply shrugged off the question and instead pointed out their new features of game sharing and backwards compatibility. Unfortunately, PlayStation is more focused on the future of gaming, so they will not be incorporating backwards compatibility.

One problem suggested with the speed of advancements in gaming technology today is that by the time a console is finished, it will already be outdated. A good point to bring up is how Sony released the PS4 pro with already next level graphics, only to be outdone by Microsoft the next year. To combat this both companies can be seen talking about producing consoles faster, or with better gear. The latter will make consoles more expensive and the former will make consoles less worth purchasing.

-Roberto Estrella

A Whole New Game: Independent AAA

Today’s video game industry seems more homogenized than ever. Now, almost every big budget game is required to have an open world with multiplayer, downloadable content, and invasive microtransactions stapled onto it with no regard to player satisfaction. As more games seek larger revenues, the future of AAA video games looks bleak. But one game may have set a precedent that will change the market for the better.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was released on August 8th, 2017 for PC and PlayStation 4. According to its developer Ninja Theory, it’s a cinematic psychological horror action-adventure game based on Celtic and Norse Mythology. That kind of subject matter isn’t something commonly seen in the market. It can be seen as risky and doomed to fail as it doesn’t play it safe. But Hellblade isn’t like other AAA games.

gamePrior to Hellblade, Ninja Theory developed Heavenly Sword and DmC: Devil May Cry along with other games of generally high quality. What sets Hellblade apart from Ninja Theory’s previous projects is that it’s self-published. Before, Ninja Theory relied on large publishers like Namco-Bandai and Capcom for marketing and distribution. But with Hellblade, they’ve done everything independently.

Independent games have been around since the beginning of commercial video games. But the independent market didn’t get to where it is today until the rise of digital distribution. Services like Steam and GOG have allowed almost anyone to self-publish their games and have a chance at commercial success. Most indie games are developed by small teams with relatively small budgets. But Hellblade is different as it was developed by an established studio with a budget more comparable to that of games released my major publishers.

Ninja Theory describes Hellblade as being Independent AAA. According to their website, an Independent AAA game is a game of AAA quality but with the more focused game design, lower price point and open development process that defines indie games. Hellblade has taken this philosophy head on. It’s single player only, released for just $30, and heavily focuses on mental health issues. This is all unheard of with AAA games from major publishers. Without independence, none of the risks Hellblade made would’ve been possible.

Despite being one game in a vast ocean, Hellblade may have created waves that will alter the future of AAA gaming. If other major non-subsidiary development studios see Hellblade as a success, they may choose to follow Ninja Theory’s footprints. This would allow for complete creative control of their own intellectual properties. They could choose to charge however much they wish. Bloated downloadable content and microtransactions forced in by publishers could no longer infect their projects. If Hellblade sets this precedent, a new age of high budget independent games could be on the horizon.

gameAAA games from the major publishers aren’t going away anytime soon. Neither is all of the nonsense we associate with them. The AAA market continues to be lucrative enough for them to remain unaffected. But major development studios no longer have to be reliant on publishers. The internet is now powerful enough for a prominent developer to market and finance a game on their own.

The recent closure of Visceral Games by EA shows that now may be the time for developers that can become independent to make the move. Hopefully, Hellblade can give some the confidence to release their own Independent AAA games.

-Andrew Levesque

DLC, Micro-Transactions and Loot Boxes: Innovations for Cold Hard Cash

It was 2014, and the finale to the Batman: Arkham games, one of the most popular series of the last decade, was just announced. Millions of thrilled fans went to YouTube to watch the Batman: Arkham Knight announcement, learning that Two-Face would be a villain. They also learned that if they didn’t pre-order this game they wouldn’t be able to play as Harley Quinn. Yes, they were pushed to preorder a game based a few minutes of video, which didn’t feature any gameplay.

gamePre-order exclusives are one of many ideas that the game industry has come up with to incentivize customers into giving their money away. Over the last decade the AAA game industry has come up with further innovations, not just to entice customers to buy games early, but also to gain a bigger profit. Sure, making games is a business and businesses are in it for the profit, but why are concepts like micro-transactions and season passes so common now in gaming?

In the beginning, the only way for companies to make money was through selling their game, make a new game and repeat. Most AAA games cost the same price, from a first-person shooter or a management simulator AAA, games usually cost $60. Why not just increase the cost of the game? For the answer check out Game Rant’s article about the subject. Truth is, companies are scared to deviate from the standard formula.

One of the first ideas for extra profit was to sell expansions, updates to games that add new content, usually for PC games. Not all of these updates are huge changes. Some content contains smaller additions such as cosmetic items or new weapons, to help keep players interested.

In the past few years, companies have been relying on DLC more than ever for a constant post-launch cash flow. There has been some debate as to how ethical these practices are. For example, some game critics argue that day-one DLC should be in the original purchase instead of being locked away until players spend more money. Yet, others defend these practices. There have even been some that have accused publishers of taking large amounts of content out of the initial game so they could sell more through DLC.

gameWith these new ideas being implemented, the AAA game industry transformed the idea of games being a single transaction product, into a continuous service that requires updates and new items, which in many cases the players must pay for. There is little downside to these DLC practices in the eyes of these publishers, because they usually take little resources and lead to a bigger net gain.

gameRemember the $60 set price mentioned above? Well, publishers started experimenting with different price ranges by releasing special edition games with more content. While the core game stays at $60, these special editions can go for much more.

Even with these additional avenues of profit the game industry continued to find ways of enticing gamers into spending more money with the implementation of micro-transactions in $60 games. For years, micro-transactions were utilized specifically for free to play games, where the player doesn’t have to pay, but the game’s progression is often purposefully slow to get them to pay for credits or items with real money in order to speed the game up. There is a large number of customers that are completely against the idea of these kinds of practices being featured in AAA games, and as the game industry has been using micro-transactions more than ever, the backlash against these companies has as well.

The success of micro-transactions has culminated in a controversial new business strategy that has taken the game industry by storm this past year. Loot boxes, a new form of micro-transactions where the player pays for a random item instead of getting to select one. This instantly began a debate between gamers as to how far was too far. There were many that defended these practices, while others voice their concerns.

For example, some critics argued that the loot boxes took advantage of people with gambling addiction. This was in light of the recent CSGO lotto controversy. A developer of the Lord of the Rings game, Shadow of War defended his game’s loot boxes by stating they were there to help the player. “It’s there as a player choice. It’s there, from my perspective, for people who are protective of their spare time and scared when a massive game comes along that they’re not getting to see the full experience. It’s the same design philosophy as us adding in difficulty modes. So now we have Easy mode, and we’ve added Hard mode at the other end of the spectrum.”

These are issues still being talked about today. An industry with a once simple business model, is now in a constantly evolving state where the next money-making idea is just around the corner. All of this has left a growing divide between publishers and gamers. There has been a growing feeling that customers are being cheated out of content initially because developers are focusing on expansions and DLC rather than the core game itself. Many would argue that these practices are only beneficial to the industry. Yet, this problem looks to continue as companies are finding financial success with these ideas.

There is little that consumers can do to change the minds of publishers like Warner Bros. and EA. There has already been a large amount of vocal opposition against micro-transactions, but there are always those who will side with the companies. Wherever there’s a profit the industry seems to go, and so the only way for gamers to make a difference is to talk with their wallets.

-Reese Stolte

Squanchtendo: A Novel Way to Doubt Your Own Existence

Hello dear reader, is this reality truly reality or is it just a simulation? Have you ever played a video game? If you haven’t, you can usually bet on a very similar narrative among most games. You start playing and you’re some hapless individual with an innate and untapped power that you’re about to master. A billion hours later and your character is now something akin to a god. This is what you can expect from playing most games because they’re just games. They’re made to give you something that you’re lacking in what you might consider to be your real life. Which brings us to one the black sheep of the gaming industry: The Stanley Parable.

Stanley ParableUnlike most games, The Stanley Parable is a game in which you are some poor schmuck named Stanley working a dull office job for all eternity. You have no power, no real choice, and nothing special about you whatsoever. The narrative is something that you make sense of and ascribe your own thoughts to. You have to find your own meaning and it allows you to reflect on what you may or may not be missing in your own life. This is a bit abnormal in video games because usually the narrative is grandiose and somewhat shallow. The stakes are normally through the roof and it’s up to you to save the world/galaxy/universe.

In 2016, a small game studio named Squanchtendo was started with the creator of The Stanley Parable along with the co-creator and voice of Rick and Morty. When the two creators collided they ended up with a virtual reality product known as Accounting. That game takes a similar approach to The Stanley Parable however the tone is darker and the narrative is much sillier.

Stanley ParableIn Accounting, you are a virtual accountant and you travel deeper into other virtual worlds. While in these other worlds the time you spend in them does not stop and you eventually come out of each one at a different point in time. You eventually make your way out of each of these worlds and the game ends. Which leaves you with the thought of whether or not this is reality and if you should try to escape it, the game’s ending carries over to after you’ve finished it.

It’s not just their narratives that makes these two creators unique, it’s also their business models. The first product from Squanchtendo was priced at the modest price of free. While this does reflect the small amount playtime it offers, it also is a product that fans definitely would have paid for. The Stanley Parable was also priced pretty low for its content which was around $15. The primary reason that these games are priced so low is that they are not being funded by massive companies.

Stanley ParableThese creators made a conscious decision to focus more on an individual story than a sprawling experience that the larger companies tend to align themselves with. The focus on a smaller more compact narrative has become a trend for indie developers in recent years and continues to be the case. Generally indie developed games have a smaller price tag to go along with the experience they’re selling.  Whereas the larger companies have settled on a $60 price tag on just about anything they put their name on.

At the end of the day they’re selling a product, whether it’s a six hundred hour adventure through the galaxy or a ten-minute-long reality-bending romp in your office. While it’s subjective which of these are better than the others, fans like myself can only hope to see more creators taking pointers from the little guys because you’re never too big to learn something. So tell me, do you exist or does it even matter? Are you a fan of any of these games? Does VR lend itself to video games enough to justify the purchase?

-Brigham Swanson

Worth the Wait? The Problem of First Day Glitches

As many of you have experienced, you buy a new device or download a new software update on the first day it releases. Well when you do that, there are bound to be some glitches with the software. This is what I call “First Day Glitches.” Many companies have this problem including some of the best companies out there. Whether it be Apple, Nintendo, or even Microsoft, it’s basically inevitable.

glitchesFirst let’s start out with Apple and their recent update iOS 11 that launched on September 18th, 2017. This is exactly one week after the iPhone 8 and iPhone X launch. On the first day, many users were experiencing issues. One of those issues was with the iPad, with graphics that were completely out of whack. The user would unlock the screen, and right away the bar that includes all of your favorite apps would be in the middle of the screen. This made it impossible to get to some of your apps that were underneath that bar. Another problem users ran into was with Apple Pay. Some people reported that Apple Pay would not work, or would completely crash when they tried to use it.

With this new update, Apple added a new feature that records your screen while you use it. Although this was a good idea on Apple’s end, it didn’t have the greatest first impression. Users would start recording and their iPhone would freeze or wouldn’t record audio like it was supposed to. The only way to unfreeze your phone was restarting it.

Apple isn’t the only company to have these kinds of problems. Nintendo had had a couple of pretty big issues when they first launched new products. One of those issues was with the JoyCon controllers not being able to connect to the screen when in portable mode. This raised many red flags because it is one of the key points for the switch being both portable like a GameBoy or stationary like a console. The other major issue with the Switch was that the screen would glitch to the point of not being able to see your game or control it at all. This video shows the extent of problems that it caused for many people.

The last company is Microsoft, and they problems they encountered with their launch of the Xbox One. On the first day, Microsoft released their “Day One edition” of the console which had some problems of its own. The “Green Screen of Death” was the biggest issue among them all. On the first startup of the console, the screen would freeze on the screen shown below. Many people got lucky and just unplugged their console and restarted it but some people had to send it back to Microsoft to get fixed. Gamers that also played on the Xbox 360 compared this to the “Red Ring of Death” which cost Microsoft nearly $1 Billion.

glitchesMany other Microsoft gamers complained about the optical disc drive either not reading discs or making a crunching noise when the disc was inserted. Along with that, the download times of games was very slow, but the explanation for this is based on how large the game files are in order to provide such high-quality graphics. The higher the graphic quality, the bigger the file will be. This is one of those times you have to decide what you would rather have. Quality graphics and slow download time? Or Bad graphics and fast download time? Read more here.

Overall, these companies are great companies even with their flaws, and it is impossible to be perfect. These examples are why I always wait a few days or a few weeks until getting that new device or downloading that new software. If you wait most of the major bugs and glitches will be taken care of.

Here are a few questions to think about. Are you one of the many that have to have the newest thing right away? Or do you wait?

If you were involved with one of these companies, what would you recommend doing differently to make the first day go smoother?

And what are some other examples that you have bought or downloaded something on the first day it released that had some glitches like these?

Brett Olson

Overwatch: The Next Team Fortress 2?

“It’s high noon,” is a quote by McCree who is one of my favorite characters from Overwatch. Blizzard released the game Overwatch last year and it was met with raving success. Overwatch has had stunning marketing results, but will Overwatch become a trend in the near future?

OverwatchCelebrity Terry Crews recently did a video that came out this month. He did a mock audition for Overwatch character Doomfist. People are still playing Overwatch if Terry Crews just did an endorsement deal for Blizzard right?

According to Direct Marketing News Perry Simpson, he listed five reasons Overwatch worked well: brand integrity, powerful influencers, high accessibility, UGC (user-generated content), and a high-quality product.

However, the Gamespulp website reported that Overwatch is slowing down. The website claimed that the characters are part of the reason why the game is not doing so well. The website also stated that there’s no unlocks and loot boxes don’t count. Finally, you already have unlocked all the characters and abilities. What else?

Well, in all fairness, Overwatch currently has around 20 million players according to IGN along with an almost perfect review. Blizzard made a really good game here. So why people think that a game like this be slowing down? One word: trend.

A trend is a popular style that lasts for a brief period in time. Trends usually do not last more than a year. A good example of a trend that has lasted is the word ‘cool.’ So, does that mean that Overwatch is a terrible game? No. Of course not. It’s just that some (including myself) see this game as a trend. I haven’t played Overwatch in months now and I don’t really want to.

Overwatch is like World of Warcraft or Runescape. There is a dedicated, loyal fan base for these games, but it is like a trend. World of Warcraft has gained subscribers, but has lost many subscribers over the years.

Overwatch is a fun game to play however and with twenty-two characters to choose from. A good variety of maps, weapons, abilities, and unique character’s backstories. The game is multiplayer only which might be a reason why this game is slowing down. How would a single player campaign work? I’m not sure.

What can Blizzard do since Overwatch is kinda-of looked at as being a trend? Well, Blizzard could patch the game, maybe add new maps, add new characters, and perhaps a single player campaign. Will they do this? Again, I’m not sure.

Other than Overwatch being rumored as a trend, I want to look more in-depth of the game’s marketing. Let’s compare Valve’s Team Fortress 2 to Overwatch due to the similarities. Overwatch seems to have a similar art style, character style, and general map rotation.

According to PCGamesN, Jeff Kaplan, Overwatch’s game director expressed his thoughts on the Team Fortress 2 comparison from a fan’s question during Blizzcon. He said, “Team Fortress 2 is one of my favorite games of all time, but we’re going in a different design direction than they are. If people want to compare Overwatch to Team Fortress 2, we would take that as the world’s greatest compliment,” said Kaplan.

Sure, Overwatch is not a complete copy of Team Fortress 2, but there are many similarities. Not to mention how Valve marketed Team Fortress 2. For example, Valve marketed and showed off Team Fortress 2 characters just like Overwatch. They made one video for each of their characters.

Blizzard has even reached out to a popular film channel on YouTube known as RocketJump formerly known as FreddieW. The video came out October 2016. They advertised Heroes of the Storm more, but they do have Overwatch character Tracer in it. It sounds like Blizzard is still trying to keep Overwatch relevant.

What are your thoughts on Overwatch? Do you think Blizzard implemented a marketing genius game or will people lose interest in this game very soon? Tell me in the comments below! Don’t forget to share this post with your friends. Thank you!

Kyle Konigsmark