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Massively Overthinking: Are modern games too cheap?

This week’s Massively Overthinking topic is a submission from reader and commenter camelotcrusade, who takes the industry’s current fight over monetization in a different direction from lockboxes. “Are modern games too cheap?” he asks, probably slowly reaching into a can of worms with a wicked gleam in his eye.

“When you think about it, many other things we buy have increased in price over the last decade but AAA games are still expected to be a maximum of $60, with many of us waiting for sales (or for free-to-play). Meanwhile, games everywhere are adding shops, post-release content, and DLC galore with increasingly aggressive pricing models. How much of this is to make-up margins they can’t capture up-front? How much should an AA game cost in 2017? $75? $90? Is there a price point where lockboxes, gambling, and in-game stores could focus on value-add instead of survival? And how did we get here? Whose fault is it? And how do we get out of this, or is ‘would you like a game with your store’ the future as we know it?”

Let’s talk money!

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EA drops the costs of heroes – and reward payouts – in Star Wars: Battlefront II by 75%

Don’t be too proud of the barrier to entry you’ve constructed; the ability to make in-game unlocks incredibly expensive is insignificant next to the power of angry consumers. An update after the latest furor over Star Wars: Battlefront II’s hero unlock prices sees the prices for these characters slashed by 75%, bringing Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader down to 15,000 credits, while Palpatine, Leia, and Chewbacca will run 10,000 credits and Iden will cost only 5,000 credits.

What EA doesn’t note in its blog post is that it also reduced reward payouts commensurately.

We’re sure the cost is one that’s still meant to provide a sense of pride and accomplishment, somehow. Whether or not this mollifies players who were rather justifiably miffed about the whole thing remains to be seen; what is already quite obvious is that this is not something that the target audience is taking lightly, so the next move is on Electronic Arts – and that move appears to be an AMA?

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CCP Games ceases VR development, closes two studios – no negative impact on EVE Online

Icelandic business website mbl.is has just reported that EVE Online developer CCP Games is planning to close two of its offices and cease all VR game development. The move affects over 100 staff worldwide, with the Atlanta office in the United States being closed and the Newcastle studio being sold off. The Newcastle office was the development house responsible for the VR dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie, which released as a bundled launch title for the Oculus Rift and has since been released on PlayStation VR and as a non-VR PC title.

The move will see CCP pull out of the VR market for the time being, focusing instead on PC and mobile development. The studio secured a $30 million US investment specifically for VR games back in 2015, and CEO Hilmar Pétursson revealed back in March of this year that the company had only recently broken even on that investment. Despite having some success with Valkyrie, Gunjack, and its recently released VR sports title Sparc, CCP acknowledged the limited opportunities and growth it sees in VR as a platform over the next several years.

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Activision secures patent for software to trick you into buying cash shop stuff, seriously

Hey, gang, this is absolutely wonderful. Activision has filed and been granted a patent for software designed to push you into buying cash shop crappies through the most insidious means possible. The breakdown is fairly straightforward: Once you buy something, the game’s matchmaking software will push you to a match where that something would be very effective or where another player’s purchases would influence your purchases, thus creating positive feedback and inspiring you to buy more! Isn’t that grand?

For those keeping track at home, this is starting to cross the line from gambling over to extortion, which is not a pleasant road to be walking. If you thought microtransactions amounted to a cash shop wholly separate from gameplay and you never had to worry about it influencing anything else, you were wrong.

Activision’s official statement is that this was simply a patent filed for exploratory software and it has not been implemented in any games. Said statement does not include phrases like “will not,” of course, so draw your own conclusions about when and whether it will show up. You can also draw your own conclusions about how shady it is, but the answer is pretty decidedly “super shady.”

Source: Kotaku, Rolling Stone; thanks to OneEyeRed and Leiloni for the tip!

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Stephan Frost’s Nexon project gains former Amazon gameplay engineer

The handrubbing intrigue over Stephan Frost’s mysterious project at Nexon ramped up this week with the announcement of another member that has signed up with the untitled game.

“Senior Gameplay Engineer Gabe Paramo joined the crew at Nexon OC today. I’m excited to get to work with this guy again,” Frost announced on Twitter yesterday.

According to Paramo’s LinkedIn profile, he came to Nexon from Double Helix Studios at Amazon where he had been working in various roles since 2008.

Frost raised a few eyebrows last month when he left his seemingly cushy position as a World of Warcraft senior design producer to take up shop with Nexon as the creative and game director of a new and unannounced title.

Source: Twitter

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No, exploitative gacha mechanics are not a good idea for western devs

We’ve been talking about exploitative gacha games and related business models on Massively OP for a long time, most recently and notably in depth earlier this year when we covered how Japan, Korea, China, and Singapore have all passed laws to take the model down a peg. In fact, China’s newest anti-gacha laws have since been used to target MMOs, card games, and even Overwatch’s skins. So given all the crackdowns, you’d think that the trend would be to avoid it, right? That industry analysts and watchers on this side of the pond would be wary?

But no. Bizarrely, there’s a new GamesIndustry.biz article this week in which AppLovin Managing Director Johannes Heinze advocates that western developers start including gachapon mechanics, even citing Pokemon Go as a good example of how well it works. He argues that gacha requires:

  • A large, varied set of content
  • A strong desire from the player to collect as many items as possible
  • A game where gacha content is necessary for players to progress
  • An effective mechanic for duplicate content (to prevent player churn from pulling too many duplicates)

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Secret World Legends outlines how its free-to-play model allows you to unlock things without cash

The good news for Secret World Legends players is that you won’t need to pay money for the game. You won’t even need to pay money for things in the game that would otherwise cost money. The game offered a new post today detailing the free-to-play model, which will allow players to exchange Aurum (the microtransaction currency) for Marks of Favour (earned through daily challenges and normal play) and vice-versa. So if you never want to drop a cent, you can avoid it.

Weapon unlocks, some vanity items, weapon upgrades, the auction house, cosmetic changes, and some undisclosed elements all require Marks of Favour. Aurum, meanwhile, is used for unlocking inventory slots, character slots, progression boosts, bank space, other vanity items, and so forth. Allowing you to exchange between the two means you can always get more Aurum without necessarily spending money, although only time (and player purchases) will tell how generous the exchange rate is.

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Ashes of Creation’s Steven Sharif on his business history, $30M funding goal, and PvP

As I put this piece together Thursday morning, Ashes of Creation’s Kickstarter has far exceeded its $750,000 goal, surging along toward stretch goals with a promise to launch what amounts to a full-scale MMORPG with sandboxy territory and PvP just a few short years from now. But since the launch of the Kickstarter a few days ago, would-be backers have dug into the history of the company and cast doubt on the validity of the campaign.

To set the record straight, we spoke again with Intrepid’s Creative Director and CEO Steven Sharif to get clarity on his business past, the nature of the game’s affiliate plans, the state of staffing, the scope of the budget, and even some details on the PvP system and business model. Read on.

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Crowfall reaches a funding stretch goal and aims for one last target

Back in November, Crowfall studio ArtCraft joined Indiegogo’s fledgling equity crowdfunding platform, which makes use of brand-new laws that allow non-accredited investors to invest in start-ups online. This is indeed investment, unlike the donation-based, Kickstarter-esque crowdfunding you’re probably used to as a gamer, though investors are purchasing preferred shares, which are relatively restricted in benefit and transfer power, and there’s no guarantee whatsoever investors will see a return.

Still, it’s ahead of the game’s persistent state, funding for ArtCraft is apparently doing fairly well at. The game has just managed to hit the 35% mark for how much can legally be raised under its newest crowdfunding push. Now the team is getting ready for one final push to 50%, with one last stretch goal for players.

Investors who back the company through this equity crowdfunding venture will receive a special land parcel that will never be available through any other means, allowing you to make a villa in the shadow of a collapsed statue. It’s definitely a conversation starter, and it’s available for everyone who invests if the 50% mark is passed, while backers who don’t invest will still receive some freebies. If that sounds like something you just can’t live without, perhaps you might want to invest a little money in the studio after all.

Source: Official Site; thanks to David for the tip!

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Game companies launch countermeasures against striking voice actor union with website

A coalition of companies targeted by the voice actor strike ongoing since earlier this month have created a website to argue their point of view that “this is a strike that did not have to happen” and suggesting that union members haven’t been made properly aware of the terms their leaders have rejected. The site claims to represent Activision, Disney, and EA, among others and possesses detailed information about the negotiations as they unraveled.

SAG-AFTRA, which has been negotiating since February of 2015, demands better baseline and secondary compensation (including the potential for residual payments on the highest-grossing games) and job transparency, among other requests. It instructed its members to strike following what it called an unsuccessful last attempt at an agreement with video game studios on October 21st.

The management coalition, however, contends on its incredibly confusingly named website that its final counteroffer was fair, posting that its proposed “structure for Additional Compensation is so close to what SAG-AFTRA is demanding monetarily that [it] believe[s] most performers would conclude the differences are not worth striking over.”

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Daybreak is cutting out game cards

If you’re a big fan of buying game cards for Daybreak’s various online offerings, you should go snap them up now before they’re gone. Daybreak has officially announced that it’s getting rid of game cards as of November 8th, 2016; no more grabbing PlanetSide 2 or EverQuest II cards when you’re in the checkout line. Even if you find them around after November 8th, the cards will no longer activate, so you’ll be out of luck.

Any cards you already have can still be redeemed, and you can also convert existing game currency into the new H1Z1: King of the Kill Crown currency through the end of 2016. Cards cannot be used on consoles, however, even previously purchased cards, so players who enjoy Daybreak titles like DC Universe Online on consoles will be out of luck. If you’ve got a few cards yet to be redeemed in your desk drawer, now is the time to take care of them.

Source: Official Site; thanks to Kinya for the tip!

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Pokemon Go has dropped 79% of its players, but it’s still making money

The number of people playing Pokémon Go has declined by 79% since its peak, according to market analysis firm Slice Intelligence. That’s a pretty enormous drop, moving the title from being one of the biggest mobile titles around to being in rather standard territory for big mobile downloads. And yet it certainly hasn’t translated to the game floundering, as it also accounted for 28% of all mobile gaming revenue in August, according to the very same report.

Statistics themselves just show the facts rather than tell a story, and thus there are a number of possible explanations; the sheer number of paying players has pushed the game to success even with the drop, for example, or those who remain are far more willing than others to drop money on the game. Whatever the reality of the situation is will become clear, but it’s undeniable that the game has lost a significant portion of its population without losing a significant portion of revenue.

Source: Gamasutra

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The Daily Grind: Do low-budget imported MMOs have a place in the current market?

The sad news about Asta and ELOA‘s upcoming closure prompted a musing from longtime commenter GreaterDivinity regarding the import-run-close model that has long been the domain of certain publishers. You know the ones. It’s a pretty reliable plan: Import a new game with enough existing content to spread it out over a year or so, get people invested in the game for that span of time, then shut it down and import something else. It presupposes that the game is meant to shut down after a certain amount of time, but it certainly does line up with what’s actually been seen happen on a regular basis.

On the one hand, this seems like something that should already be gone; when you can count the number of subscription-only games on one hand, it seems odd to assume you can gain traction with a quickly translated game compared to market leaders. At the same time, it’s been a staple of the free-to-play market for quite some time, and the publishers who import these titles seem no closer to running out of stuff to import or an audience for their titles. Do low-budget imported MMOs have a place in the current market? Are they doomed to be obsoleted by free-to-play titles with higher budgets and production value meant to be played over a longer term? Or do they still have a dedicated audience who prefers title turnover to playing Star Trek Online or Neverwinter for years on end?

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