business

EVE Fanfest 2018: CCP Falcon on EVE’s community team layoffs and having Hilmar as a CEO

It’s safe to say that it’s been a rough year for CCP Games, with the company pulling out of VR game development and laying off around 100 staff worldwide. The entire EVE Online community team was reported to have been slashed down to just two employees, and many of the studio’s most experienced PR staff were let go when the Atlanta office was shuttered. EVE players (including me) came down hard on CCP and on CEO Hilmar Veigar Petursson in particular, and some inside the company were notably shaken.

EVE Online Community Manager Paul “CCP Falcon” Elsy was one of the few members of the community team left after the layoffs, suddenly finding himself organising the 15th anniversary Fanfest without a team. It’s now been almost five months since the layoffs, so I caught up with Paul at EVE Fanfest 2018 recently to find out how the company has coped with the loss of so many skilled community staff. He also clarified CCP’s role in tackling harassment outside the game client in the wake of a recent virtual scuffle on the Open Comms show, and gave a fascinating account of how Hilmar himself dealt with the recent layoffs and how he’s been getting more involved with EVE lately.

Read on for our massive in-depth interview with EVE‘s Community Manager Paul “CCP Falcon” Elsy.

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MOBAs provide a template for the future of the battle royale genre

So where will battle royale games be in another five years? We don’t know just yet, but from a purely business standpoint we can extrapolate some ideas. GamesIndustry.biz has an analysis up suggesting that we can look to the last overnight genre explosion in the form of MOBAs as a good indicator of what will happen with future battle royale entries, scrambling to pick up the scraps not already picked up by Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

Why? Well, the entrenched playerbase has already been established in those games, which means that slight tweaks to the formulas are unlikely to cause player shifts, and by the time these competitors are released most players will already be committed. In short, it’s many of the points we raised in a piece about trend-chasing on Wednesday, just applied more specifically to this genre. So if you’re hoping that the next battle royale game will be the one to dethrone the ruling powers, you might not want to bet too heavily on that.

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Analysts predict that major publishers will pivot to counter (and catch up with) Fortnite

Epic’s not even remotely a nobody in gaming, but it’s still a surprise to find out that its runaway battle royale hit Fortnite actually has investment analysts thinking twice.

That’s according to a roundup on Investors.com, which includes quotes from several analysts. Nobody’s panicking yet, expecting only a minimal or modest impact on Activision, Take-Two, and EA in the short term (never mind slight share dips last week); in fact, one analyst said “monetization fears are overblown” in spite of the fact that “Fortnite is indeed pulling some engagement away from Activision.” But most seem to think that the major publishers will course-correct with, well, clones of their own, even in existing titles.

“While there may be some short-term impact on time/wallet share for the major publishers, we expect this to be temporary as these publishers incorporate similar ‘battle royale’ modes into existing titles,” Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson reportedly said. “We believe it is the ‘mode,’ not the game, that has attracted users to Fortnite and PUBG. We therefore expect major publishers to win back engagement as this style of play is included in their existing titles.”

Source: Investors.com via Reddit. Thanks, Joe!

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MMO business roundup: Steam, toxicity, Kartridge, contracts, dopamine, and guns

What’s going on in the online video games business this week? Let’s dig in.

Steam, toxicity, and Kartridge

The Center for Investigative Reporting (via Motherboard) has a scathing piece out on Steam toxicity this week. Valve has traditionally maintained a hands-off approach with Steam groups, which means that the groups can easily become a toxic cesspit. The platform is accused of being loaded with hate groups, many of which support racist agendas or promote school shootings. Motherboard notes that Valve has refused to respond to questions on this topic since last October.

Meanwhile, Kongregate is launching Kartridge, a potential Steam competitor that says it will embrace indie “premium” titles and small-fry developers. “Our initial plan is that the first $10,000 in net revenue, one hundred percent will go to the developer,” Kongregate’s CEO says. “We’re not coming in just to build another store. No-one needs that. This is about building a platform that is focused on creating a very fair and supportive environment for indie developers” – as well as on social and community tools.

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GoVenture World takes the MMO to business school

After you’ve put in a long day in your cubicle working for The Man, why not come home, kick off your shoes, and unwind by playing… an intensely detailed business simulator MMO? Hey, it takes all types, especially the types that feel like they need some virtual success to compensate for real-life stagnation.

Meet GoVenture World. This is an online business MMO in which players run their own startup companies and try to make it big in a simulated global economy. While the time frame and systems are streamlined from their real world complex counterparts, GoVenture World claims to offer an authentic business experience that includes supply, demand, stocks, legal issues, shipping, and on-the-job training. There is also a mobile app tie-in that allows the game to function as a pseudo-augmented reality title.

Also, we want to hear if anyone takes up GoVenture on this suggestion: “The experience is so real, so authentic, that you can add your in-game achievements to your real resume to help you get a job, or further your career, or launch your own startup.”

There is a lot of options and plenty to wrap your head around here, so get a high-level overview of GoVenture World in the video guide after the break.

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Funcom reports that 2017 was the most profitable year in its history

With significantly higher revenue and sales coming in 2017, Funcom announced to its investors that it just came off the most profitable year in the studio’s history. The studio made $23.2M in revenue and $6.64M in profit during the period, a massive increase over 2016, during which it only made $7.3M in revenue. Even better, Funcom said that it has significantly reduced its debt and strengthened its position.

As for its games, Funcom said that Secret World Legends’ new story content is coming in the first quarter and is expected to bring back players and push user acquisition. Conan Exiles’ May launch is a source of particular excitement, and Funcom is planning on several marketing initiatives to push sales. Anarchy Online and Age of Conan were not mentioned in the report.

Of course, the studio is particularly excited about today’s announcement of its publishing Mutant Year Zero.

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MMO Business Roundup: EA Spouse 14 years later, PUBG poaching from Riot, and Funcom financials

Welcome back to another edition of our informal business roundup, where we wedge all the fun MMO industry tidbits that pile up in our newsroom.

Remember EA Spouse, the EA developer’s wife whose initially anonymous article busted open the doors on EA’s culture of abusive crunch back in 2004? Rolling Stone’s Glixel blog (via Gamasutra) has a 14-year retrospective and a sum-up of the state of “crunch culture” since then. Intriguingly, EA Spouse herself – Erin Hoffman-John – declined to comment much on how she got the ball rolling, but other developers gave Glixel conflicting accounts. Some believe that EA has made an attempt to change and is no “worse than anyone else,” while one producer scoffed at the pushback against crunch, calling it a “disruption.” According to him, hustle is just the patch to greatness.

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Steam terminates its relationship with MMO company Insel Games over alleged review manipulation

It’s really unusual to see publishers outright booted off of Steam, but Valve has done exactly that to Insel Games following reports of review manipulation. It started with a Reddit post yesterday posting an alleged email from the company’s CEO lamenting the lack of a proper review score for Wild Buster and asking all employees to purchase a copy of the game along with leaving a positive review on the game page. Apparently whatever Valve found behind the scenes was enough to convince the company that the accusations were legitimate and terminate the relationship.

Players who already own copies of Wild Buster, Guardians of Ember, or any other Insel Games titles will still be able to play the games, and they can still be purchased through other sources, but new copies cannot be obtained through Steam. We’ve reached out to Insel Games for comment on the matter and will update this post with any response we receive. [Update: We’ve included the statement made to MOP via email below.]

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Ubisoft investor presentation highlights the profit benefits of ‘games as a service’

Have you wondered why it is Ubisoft is so dedicated to putting out a continual string of games as a service, even its ostensibly single-player offerings? Actually, as an MMO fan you probably haven’t wondered, but the latest investor presentation for the company makes it absolutely clear why this model is favored by the company. Specifically? Because it means money. So much money, for such a long time.

Ubisoft has found that games like The Division and The Crew wind up generating much more revenue over the long term, meaning that a yearly game released as a service makes a lot more money over the long term than simple single-player launches. Of course, long-time MMO fans are probably familiar with this principle, and it doesn’t exactly address the question of whether or not it produces better games. But if you needed confirmation, here it is.

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EA filed an ‘Engagement Optimized Matchmaking’ patent in 2016

Remember Activision’s rather skeezy matchmaking patent from last year? That one was pretty straightforward in how it worked, if unpleasant: You buy something from the cash shop, and the game then makes an effort to match you up in a place where that cash shop purchase was a super great idea. Turns out that Electronic Arts has a similar but distinct patent filed from 2016, and it should get your hackles up just as much as its predecessor.

This one, at least, is not going to validate your every cash shop purchase directly; instead, it’s a matchmaking system dubbed Engagement Optimized Matchmaking that links you up based on play style, sportsmanship, skill, and willingness to spend money. The bright side you could point to is that it’s less explicitly about reinforcing cash shop purchases; the down side is that it’s still a matching system based on keeping you playing rather than providing a fair match, and at this point EA does not exactly have the goodwill of players. You can watch a whole video breaking it down piece by piece below.

Also worth noting is that the patent was filed in 2016, but it has not yet been approved. So it doesn’t appear to be live in the wild yet, but it’s on track to be.

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Gaming industry roundup: SWBG2’s poor sales, Gambling Commission, slot machines, and parody games

Don’t agree that lockboxes, lootboxes, and gambleboxes were the biggest story of the year? We’ve collected so many news tidbits just on that over the last few days that we’re resorting to rounding them up rather than spamming. To wit:

First, Merrill Lynch analysts have now lowered their expectations and profit estimates for EA thanks to the performance of Star Wars Battlefront 2, which the analysts believe will fall short of the 14M sales estimate by 2.5M. At least in big box stores, the game also performed relatively poorly on Black Friday.

On point: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gambling is under $1 on Steam. “Do you love opening loot crates, but hate the tedious gameplay sessions in between? Our marketing department has the game for you! Unbox random items! Get stuff, but not what you really want! Skate legal and ethical lines! Remember kids, it’s only a video game, so grab your parents’ credit card!”

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The Soapbox: Evaluating gaming monetization through the lens of Nintendo’s mobile history

Bloggers and journalists throughout the online gaming industry have been talking about monetization a lot lately. It’s not just lockbox/gachapon scandals, or their relationship with gambling, but basic monetization and what we want from it. Games, after all, don’t make themselves; we have to pay for something to make that happen. But some gamers seem to view free-to-play games as a game that should be free, not one to be supported if it earns respect. And on the flipside of that, far too few game studios give off a vibe not of experimenting with monetization but of maximizing profits above all else while barely veiling their greed.

However, outside the MMO world, there is a company that’s been doing it “right” for a long time: Nintendo. The AAA developer/publisher is known for both innovation and hesitance, following in others’ footsteps with great trepidation, trying to figure out the ins and outs while entering the mobile market long after it’s been established. The company recently released a new mobile title, but what’s interesting is that it and the company’s last four games are all different genres with different monetization strategies. Exploring these titles and their relationship to their monetization plans will not only highlight the potential success of the models but hint at why they work and how they can be curbed into models gamers and lawmakers can better accept.

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EA lockbox debacle wipes out billions in stock as SuperData forecasts regulation

It looks as though the rebels may have defeated the empire — or at least struck a mighty blow to give the latter pause.

CNBC is reporting that the fallout from EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II and its lockboxes has done serious damage to the company’s bottom line. EA’s stock price dove 8.5% following the uproar over Battlefront’s egregious lockboxes, the resulting decision to (temporarily) remove them from the business model, and weaker than expected sales. This means that $3.1 billion of shareholder value has now vanished. That’s no small potatoes.

Wall Street Analyst Doug Creutz said that this may be the catalyst that sets some serious changes in motion for the video game industry: “We think the time has come for the industry to collectively establish a set of standards for MTX implementation, both to repair damaged player perceptions and avoid the threat of regulation.”

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