Global Game Industry News Blog

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Publishers: DS Could be Best Selling Video Game Platform Ever... Without our help.

So, this piece of news is really interesting. It's interesting to me because it seems so blatantly obvious that there is a goatload of money to be made off of the DS, yet publishers are actually not supporting the platform in any sort of gun-ho fashion. Instead they're being timid with a platform that for all ostensible purposes is one of the cheapest out there to develop for, perhaps save the web. But you know, risk has never been the name of the game for most publishers.

DS Could Be Best Selling Video Game Platform Ever
Naturally video game publishers are going to want a piece of the portable pie. The opportunities are many. "Historically, Nintendo has been able to dominate the portable game market by developing games specifically suited for the unique attributes of the portable platform. However, there is growing opportunity for third party publishers and developers of portable games," DFC said. "... publishers of not only casual games, but even developers of high-end PC games like role-playing (RPG), massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) and turn-based strategy, could benefit from the rising use of portable platforms among adults. Meanwhile, existing console game publishers have found it is possible to make over $100 million in revenue from a single PSP title based on the right franchise."

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ouch... GBA Outsells PS3

Numbers like these are always highly interpretable, but things definitely look good for Nintendo at the moment. My only hesitation really is that the only software titles in the top 10 for Nintendo systems are First Party titles, meaning that they're made by Nintendo.

If you look at the other platforms (360 for example, or the PS2) they're third party titles. Nintendo is going to have to not only work with developers to get more software onto their systems, but they're really going to have to encourage publishers to take some chances with new material.

Breaking: Nintendo Dominates February; Total Industry Sales Up 53%
Taking a closer look at the data, it's clear that Nintendo is dominating. On the hardware front the DS sold more than any other platform with 485K units, followed by the Wii with 335K units. The PS2 once again outsold the Xbox 360, 295K vs. 228K. Meanwhile, the PS3 sold a disappointing 127K, far below analysts' estimate of 200K. In fact, the old GBA even outsold the PS3, with 136K. Sony's PSP managed to sell 176K. Finally, trailing the pack (essentially on life support) was the GameCube with 24K.
1. Crackdown (Xbox 360) – Microsoft – 427K
2. Wii Play w/ remote (Wii) – Nintendo – 371K
3. Diddy Kong Racing (DS) – Nintendo – 262K
4. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii) – Nintendo – 130K
5. Guitar Hero 2 w/ guitar (PS2) – Activision – 130K
6. Gears of War (Xbox 360) – Microsoft – 119K
7. Major League Baseball 2K7 (Xbox 360) – Take-Two – 113K
8. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (Xbox 360) – Capcom – 111K
9. WarioWare: Smooth Moves (Wii) – Nintendo – 109K
10. NBA Street Homecourt (Xbox 360) – Electronic Arts – 102K
Analyst: Next-Gen Underperforming; PS3 Price Cut 'Critical'
With PS3 sales not meeting expectations, at this point Patel said that a price cut on the hardware is "critical," but the analyst does not foresee that happening until at least the start of Sony's next fiscal year (April), and even that is a "long-shot," Patel stated.

To put the PS3's situation in context, Patel said, "PS3 consoles are available at retail but sales are lackluster. Its 130K units sold in February was less than Xbox 360 sales last year (160K) and even less than the original Xbox sales of 140K in Feb-2002."

Deutsche Bank was equally unimpressed with the Xbox 360, however. "Particularly disappointing is Xbox 360 HW sales of 230K in February, which puts its installed base at 5mn or in-line to the original Xbox which was an unproven console and faced substantial competition from the PS2," Patel noted.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Honest Publishers are Neat

There's an interesting article (verging on a rant, which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned) over on GameDaily.BIZ about getting a game signed.

I can't say much about it other than that it's a pretty honest publisher's view of the world of game development.

Getting Your Game Signed
Less talk, more action – that's what publishing partners really want to see. You can trot out the biggest, fattest, coolest sounding design document in the world, but if you want to be the beneficiary of a five-, six- or seven-figure check, hoo boy... Brother, you better be able to put a playable demo where your mouth is. (Especially since we're sure as snot not reading a 50-page essay on the spot, let alone while swamped back at the home office...)
Don't arrive at the bargaining table unless you're willing to negotiate, and open to seeing things from the publisher's perspective. This doesn't necessarily mean accepting less money than anticipated, but it may mean adjusting royalty figures or expectations in terms of marketing and promotional commitments. Fun fact: Everyone's goal is always to maximize return while passing the most possible risk onto the other party. And so, if you want to have any hope of getting signed, let alone landing a deal whose terms are even close to favorable, you have to leave yourself room to maneuver. Deals are always a subtle process of give and take. Offended easily? Perhaps this isn't the right business to be in – you'd be amazed by the proposals various game-making and –manufacturing entities will attempt to float past one another.

Labels: , , , ,

Of Course We Don't GET IT... We Don't HAVE IT!

I recently read the lower two articles about American developers having a difficult time developing for the DS, which I at first wrote off to conservatism of US based publishing companies. However, then I read the article about a student DS development camp where students created games for the DS.

OK. So let me get this straight. People in Japan that want to learn to make games get a chance to work on the DS? Um, why aren't they doing this in the US? Developers here can't get their hands on DS development kits, let alone students.

Of course we don't get the system. We're not really being given a chance. What about a US development camp where people can go play and learn the DS hardware for a couple of weeks with Nintendo developers on hand to help them learn the tricks of the trade. Hell, why stop with just the US and Japan. You're not going to get the most interesting and innovative games unless you start to let more people into the magic circle of licensed developers.

Nintendo Exploiting Student Labor!
Nintendo Co., Ltd. is making games developed by students at its Nintendo Seminar 2006 available for download via the DS Station. Starting late last week and appearing every two weeks after that, the games are totally free. Games include one that has players swing a steel ball to destroy obstacles and help mice captured by cats or another one that has players shout things at inappropriate times. These games, like so many good things, are Japan only.
How Western game developers fail to score with Nintendo DS
The DS is, of course, a famously innovative console. And it seems that Japanese developers, who lean far less on movie licences or formulaic sequels (think how Mario is reinvented from console generation to generation) have been most able to get to grips with it.
This is where things get really interesting – when you realise that the highest-scoring non-Japanese DS game is Tony Hawk's American Sk8land, in 16th position with (a very respectable) 84 per cent. We then have another Activision title, Ultimate Spiderman, in 34th place, and then another Tony Hawk's title, Downhill Jam, in 40th.
Western Devs Don't Get the DS
Tony Hawk, the West's great hope in DS gaming.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, March 19, 2007

Miyamoto Talks, People Listen, Sorta...


Miyamoto's talk at GDC was quite good. It ran long, only in part because it took nearly 45 minutes to get the gathered crowd into the building. It also just ran long, and folks started running out the keynote somewhere roughly 30 minutes into the talk. I must say that if I'd been doing a presentation after the keynote, I'd have been pissed. I guess my IDGDA talk was right before the keynote, which I understandably affected to some extent attendance... but I digress.

His talk was very interesting, but I wonder if some of the points were really driven home? Based off of what I've been hearing from informants in the last couple of weeks in their dealings with publishers, not much.

Miyamoto was really getting at several things, and I think they're both pretty darn important.
  1. This whole public perception of games as violent/anti-social/etc. regardless of how right or wrong you think it is, is every game developers problem. This is the biggest one that I wonder if people really got it. In many ways he was talking about how in 1998 Nintendo was at the top of their game, and in 2004 they're a bit of an underdog. But it's also about the kind of games that are getting made and offered up to players. We're just not using enough imagination I think is what he's saying. We're going to need more genres and more different things rather than fewer to grow the industry.
  2. Changing it or making it otherwise isn't going to be easy, or popular for that matter. This is where I wonder if developments like the formation of the Gamecock Media Group, Man!festo Games, or other alternative publishers are going to be necessary. For the most part the game industry has managed to cement itself into a model that creates the kinds of games he's talking about. This also makes for an interesting opportunity for Nintendo, though they're going to have to make good on new kinds of agreements, that I'm not entirely sure they're ready for. Look at Ian Bogost's comments on Water Cooler Games about independent developers (those probably most able and willing to take on Miyamoto's challenge) having difficulty getting development kits.
  3. By choosing this other path, you actually have an opportunity to make games differently. Rather than pushing to but more and more and more content into a game, you can focus on getting the game itself right. This I think is at the core of precisely why Nintendo's refusal of NextGen is so interesting. In many respects they've said, make do with this for now, but be original with this new piece of the puzzle (the Wii-mote for those of you that are just tuning in).
All in all it was a nice talk, though I wish he had driven home a couple of these points a bit more directly, because as it stood, it felt like a nice fire-side chat rather than the throwing down of a gauntlet, which is really what it was.

GDC: Miyamoto Shares His Unique Vision
...He said that he observed an important shift. In 1998, the top five selling games were Goldeneye 007, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Gran Turismo, Banjo Kazooie and Super Mario 64. In 2004, however, the top games were GTA: San Andreas, Madden 2005, Halo 2, Halo 2 Limited Ed., and ESPN NFL 2K5. All of a sudden, people were worried about the effect of games on people, turning them into zombies, he said. The reputation of the games industry was at stake.
The second core element of Nintendo's vision, devotion to entertainment, means that every employee is able to focus on providing entertainment. Miyamoto said that Nintendo has a very good balance of engineers and developers, and there's a chance for collaboration all day long, "even in the bathroom." And it's all about collaboration. Even though Miyamoto has worked on every controller Nintendo has made, he stressed that it's all been a group effort.
The third element, risk, is at the core of Nintendo's philosophy for the Wii. Miyamoto said that the bigger the challenge is, the bigger the risk. Nintendo took on the challenge of asking what a video game is. He said that Nintendo has taken a number of risks over the years but that none was bigger than the Wii. He acted as an evangelist within Nintendo, telling others not to think about what they might lose by abandoning the traditional controller in favor of the remote, but to think of what they will gain.
Next, Miyamoto talked about prioritization. He said that in this industry, game designers are always complaining about "not enough," whether it's budget, time, etc. He said designers feel obligated to put in more and more and make the best graphics, but they need to prioritize.
Ultimately, Miyamoto told the developers in attendance that "your vision does not have to be my vision." He added that the future of the industry depends on how today's designers apply their vision. But, he's been "given a lot of faith about the future of the industry" after observing some of the games at the Independent Games Festival, he said. Miyamoto said that we cannot forget about the human touch. He concluded, "If we can convert my wife, I believe we can convert anyone."

Labels: , , , , ,

Gamers Get Older Too - Birth of Nintendad and their Wii-ones

You don't say. Those NES owners as they get older are still buying games and game consoles? Wow, I would have never expected that. I think they're still watching movies and listening to music too.

So, it's kind of interesting, but it's also pretty obvious. For a lot of us that grew up with the NES, SNES, and every system between, it had a major impact on our lives. It doesn't really surprise me that we're going to attempt to introduce our kids to the entertainment form.

What is interesting about it is that I have to wonder what effect this will have on the demographic of gamers. Hopefully it's a father & son/daughter thing, and not just a father & son kind of thing. Of course with the rise of the Nintendo DS and Wii, and more moms and daughters playing with these systems, there may be a major change in demographics.

Anyway, the article isn't that interesting, but points at the pervasiveness and spread of the console technology.

Video games grow up as adult ownership increases
Video games aren't just for the kids anymore. More than one in three U.S. adults who go online, or 37 percent, own a video game console and 16 percent own a portable gaming device, Nielsen//NetRatings said on Tuesday.

The majority of those console owners, 71 percent, are married, and 66 percent have at least one child in the household.

"As game consoles have become increasingly sophisticated, families have incorporated them into their centralized home media centers, which include the television, digital recording device, digital music player and the PC," said Carolyn Creekmore, senior director of media analytics, Nielsen//NetRatings.
Going into the current console war, analysts had predicted that adult gamers who grew up with the Japanese game maker's products -- dubbed "Nintendads" -- would want to introduce their children to Nintendo games and be a key market for its new machine.

Labels: , ,

The Power of the "Enthusiast Press"

This story began to unfold about the time I was getting stuck in a snow storm in Iowa, from which I returned and immediately left again for San Francisco and the Game Developer's Conference (GDC).

It's actually fairly impressive that Kotaku was able to pull this move, and in many respects demonstrates how the enthusiast press surrounding the gaming industry is able to exert its force not in any direct kind of way, but based upon the networks they've managed to build amongst readers, other news organizations, and other enthusiast press outlets. Kotaku is of course one of only many of these sites, but it has an impressive readership, and has also managed to get themselves well inserted.

This particular controversy is interesting. While I'm not in the business of locating rumors which to speak on, I am in the business of having a whole lot of information about where companies are going. Thank goodness I'm covered by NDA's most of the time, and I have no real interest in publishing right now everything I think I know about what's going on, which might be wrong anyway.

It's impressive what many of these organizations are able to find out about the inner workings of companies, but even more interesting the amount of respect that they are able to garner from both gamers and game developers alike.

GDC was peculiar in many ways, because there were almost two "tracks" of people who were visiting. One was the developers, and the other the press. Two very different interests, and I suspect that with the demise of E3, you're going to see a widening of the press tracks at GDC. I can only wonder what this will do for the folks interested in making games.

Sony and Kotaku Make-Up
First, I have to say thank you to all of the websites, newspapers, magazines, people who were so quick to come to our defense and supported our decision to stand by our story.

Second, I want to thank Dave Karraker, head of SCEA PR, who was big enough to call me and talk the whole thing through after this exploded.

He told me his take on the story and his frustrations and I told him mine, in the end we agreed to disagree on some level, but also decided that our readers and gamers in general would be best served if Sony and Kotaku could still play nicely together.

Sony Blackballs Kotaku (UPDATED)
The Playstation Home, we reported, would be an intriguing blending of the Mii and achievements, allowing gamers to create a virtual world for customized avatars and then decorate that space with items unlocked through game play.
Sony's decision is disappointing, not because of what it means to Kotaku, but because of what it means to the industry.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Game Development is Hard, and Made Harder by the Manufacturers

I love it when developers get the chance to give glipses into their worlds, and Dave Perry does just that here. The truth of the matter is that in general Sony (and other console manufacturers too) need to get better about not working in secrecy for years and then introducing a console to developers a couple of months ahead of the release of the actual device.

It takes time to learn the way these systems work, and since (especially with Sony) your tools are never really that great to begin with you're fighting the machine. Sony actually released some new tools at GDC this year, which is pretty neat that they're giving tools to all licenced developers that they've kept previously for special developers, which really, is a problem. Don't do that! Of course if you're not giving out tools or hiding tools or changing tools or any of these things you're going to make it really hard for developers to make the most out of a system.

The other piece of this is that documentation and just general knowledge of how these systems work is not known or provided. Developers often have to figure out (and re-figure out) how to do things on each and every console, with each and every generation. This means that you wind up putting a ton of effort into developing systems for each console you've already developed, or hacked together on another system, because of some undocumented hardware/API issue you've encountered.

This is why it takes years to see something like God of War.

PS3's power will be untapped for years - Perry

Former Shiny Entertainment boss Dave Perry has praised Sony's PS3 hardware, describing it as "the best piece of hardware, without question" - but claims that it will be years before developers tap that power.
"I haven't seen anything even close to what the machine's capable of doing," he claimed. "So that's the sad part for Sony - I feel really bad for them that somebody hasn't really stepped up to show us the hardware all singing, all dancing."

He attributed this under-utilisation of the machine to a common cycle in the console market, using God of War as an example of a game which finally tapped much of the power of a system which had been on the market for several years.

"The point is you're not going to get to see the PlayStation 3 for probably a couple of years, and then you're going to go, 'Wow, that's incredible.'"

Perry lays the blame for this problem squarely at the door of the hardware designers, who he believes have far too much control over the design of console systems. "This is how sad the industry is right now," he said. "If Sony thought of a way that their architecture designers could somehow add even more power for less money, but made programming a misery - actually made you just want to kill yourself - they would do it."

He believes that the way through this impasse is to allow top developers to have more input into the design of console systems, a move which he claims would help to "focus on what's important" rather than building in secondary features such as web browsers at the cost of both affordability and game functionality.

Labels: , ,

Nielsen Ratings and Console Markets

While I tend to pay attention to consoles a bit more than the PC (and sometimes unduly, though I've been attempting to rectify that to some extent lately), in part that is because the console while becoming more widespread as these reports indicate, it also tends to be the cash cow of the video game industry, and as such is the platform that video game companies strive to work on.

More and more reports indicate that gamers are favoring consoles over PC's, and that in many cases PC's are being used to drive a fairly narrow set of games. However, at the same time I'm interested more and more in the PC because it is the only "open" game development system out there at the moment capable of running the kinds of games that consumers have come to expect.

The comment about game systems being multimedia hubs is interesting, because for me that makes it a bit complicated that Nintendo released the Wii in the United States unable to play DVD's, despite the systems capability of actually doing so. I'm curious if this is a licensing issue or some other piece of the industry puzzle.

Nielsen reports surge in US console ownership

"The video game console has become a major player in the battle for the living room," according to Nielsen's vice president of wireless and interactive services, Jeff Herrmann. "In households across the country, consoles are successfully competing for consumers' time and attention; not simply as gaming platforms, but as multimedia hubs that also can deliver high quality digital movies and IPTV."

Nielsen: 41.1% of TV Households Have Consoles

According to Nielsen Wireless and Interactive Services, the number of game consoles in U.S. households with a television has grown by 18.5%. In total, there were 45.7 million homes with video game consoles, representing 41.1% of all TV households, during the fourth quarter of 2006. This is an increase from 43 million households (39.1%) last year and 38.6 million (35.2%) in 2004.

Labels: ,

Getting Hit with the "No Sh*t" Hammer...

This is an exciting prospect for game developers. Much of my criticism of the game industry comes around inability for developers to honestly and openly communicate, and an inability to plan. Hardware road maps are a big part of this, and it was exciting to see (via GameDaily.Biz via Newsweek) that at the behest of Sony of America this might be changing. It's still got Nintendo by the neck, and in part I understand why, if they were all sharing, each new console would end up with all sorts of features of it's competitors. At the same time it tends to leave all but those developers on the extreme inside loops with these companies with their pants down come time for a change in hardware.

Apple ought to learn from this too.

Harrison: We Should Be Sharing Our Road Map

"There is a cultural thing about our approach in Japan that has to change. Our approach in Japan is, 'Once it's perfect, we'll share it with everybody else.' Whereas I think in order to engender trust in our users, we have to share some things that might be not quite perfect, but are ready to give you an indication of what's coming," Harrison explained. "So we could say, 'You know, we're not sure when it's coming, but we're going to have DVD upscaling on Playstation 3.' There you go. There's a scoop for you. In my view, we should have a slide on a Web site, or a blog. We should have [Playstation head of platform development Izumi] Kawanishi blog his road map for the Xross Media Bar for Playstation 3. I think he would probably have the biggest blog after yours in the world."

He continued, " ...we have to become more comfortable in sharing our road map. We have to get more liberal in the ways we experiment with some things. Because some things that we think are important may not be important to our consumer. Conversely, something which is lower down on our road map may be the most important thing to a consumer, unexpectedly so. And we need to be a little more open in that regard."

Labels: , ,

Ok, so it wasn't live...

I guess I wasn't able to blog and follow GDC. I don't suppose that's any surprise. It was quite the zoo, and I'm just happy to have emerged with my liver and mind still intact. While that is of course arguable, I'm going to attempt to go through a bunch of my notes and back-logged
news items worthy of words that others haven't already written.

As I've already stated, by and large this site I assume is mostly an account of personal mulling, and I'd be surprised to find more than a handful (I'd be surprised at a handful too really) of folks that read it. But now I'm just navel gazing. Let's get to it.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Reflecting on game writing...

This was a fun tutorial, and I'm curious what the other attendees thought of the whole thing. I enjoyed myself, though most of the material was stuff that I was familiar with, though the way he linked it up with film was very amusing. It was a bit difficult to see all of the links between game writing and what he was presenting, which was pretty well rooted in film. The games that we did look at were Grand Theft Auto and Metal Gear Solid 2. Otherwise it was very focused on film.

Near the end of the presentation he brought it to bear more on games, but that probably could have happened earlier.

My favorite activity was the re-writing of a movie plot from the perspective of the villain. I chose "Predator."

...we carry small thermonuclear suppositories, which I detonated to prevent my shame. It's kind of like what you call "Hari Kari", though you also sometimes take our your prey simultaneously. I hope I got him.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Live from GDC it's... me.

Ok, I've decided that I'll leave some comments up here about what I'm up to at GDC.

Today I think I'm going to sit in on the "And Make it Snappier!" talk by Evan Skolnick. It's a presentation on writing in the context of games. I'm actually going to use it to help me think about the dissertation writing project however. I'll post more about that later.

Thus far I've only managed to make it to Moscone West, apparently Moscone North has some interesting stuff. However, I'm sure that is going to be the story for this entire event. There is going to really be too much to catch everything.

More coming.

Labels: , ,